From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring Amanda Coplin and Chris Bohjalian

By Lynn Willoughby

The Orchardist ~ Amanda Coplin

This novel is set in a rural area of the Pacific Northwest in the foothills of the Cascade mountains. It is “…a highly original and haunting debut novel about a makeshift family whose dramatic lives are shaped by violence, love and an incredible connection to the land.”

Talmadge is a solitary man who had tended his apricot, plum and apple orchards for nearly fifty years. He loves walking among his trees, grafting, picking and selling his fruit. Time is marked by the seasons and by the appearance of the horse wranglers – native men, mostly Nez Perce, who pass through each spring with their herd of wild horses on the way to auction in Seattle. When they return each fall, they pick fruit.

One day, while in town to sell fruit at the local market, two dirty, barefoot girls steal some apples from Talmadge. Later, they appear at his homestead. They are like feral animals – they sleep outside, wear the same ragged clothes, never bathe, but will eat the food he prepares when he leaves it on the porch. Both girls are very young and very pregnant.

Just as they begin to trust him, a group of brutal men with guns arrive at the orchard and the tragedy that follows sets Talmadge on a course he never expected to travel in his lifetime.

The prose is lovely, the protagonist is a gentle soul and very likeable. It is a long book, but I enjoyed every page. We get a real sense of rural life before there were railroads. There are several solitary souls in this book but life has a way of making us connect – sometimes with cruelty, sometimes in a search for where we belong, sometimes to preserve harmony and appreciate the little gifts of life.

Midwives ~ Chris Bohjalian

Midwives is about solitary souls as well. The premise is that Sibyl Danforth, who has been practising midwifery for some 15 years by 1981, has murdered one of her labouring mothers, by performing a Caesarian section on a live woman. Sibyl believed the mother had stroked out and was desperate to save the live baby.

There are many circumstances leading to this life altering moment – an ice storm making it impossible to stand up outdoors, let alone to drive anywhere, a new midwife apprentice, medication and a pre-existing condition in the mother, never revealed to Sibyl, downed telephone lines.

The story is told by Sibyl’s teenaged daughter, Connie. It seems like a witch hunt and there are many things Connie is unable to understand. However, Sibyl’s lawyer, other practising midwives, clients of Sibyl, even some of the medical community – all are there to support Sibyl.

What seemed lost in this story was the fact that Sibyl DID save the baby. Rarely is it mentioned that two could have died on that stormy, icy night, that emergency vehicles were not running, that Sibyl had attended hundreds of births, that she loved her clients and their babies.

There is a lot of insight by the writer into courtroom drama, family dynamics, what a “community” means and how a fourteen year old sees the world. It is a powerful and well written story of human responsibility and reminds us that rarely is the world and it’s working only black or white.

  • Close Your Eyes
  • Hold Hands

…………and several others

Who Knew?
In Canada, only Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador do NOT have legislation in place for the practice of midwifery.