The Too-Wild-West: Amanda Coplin’s “The Orchardist”

MizB at shoudbereading hosts the weekly Musing Mondays event.

Here are the rules:

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

Amanda Coplin

Amanda Coplin

I am currently reading Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist for one of my book groups.  Set in late 19th/early 20th century Washington State, it is the story of orchardist William Talmadge and two young women, Jane and Della, whom he befriends and tries to protect.   This is Coplin’s first novel, and she has received high praise from critics, deservedly so.

orchardist

I am only about halfway through, so I am not ready to make Grand Sweeping Pronouncements on the novel as a whole, except by saying that Coplin’s writing is beautifully evocative of a bygone era, and her characters are complex and engaging.

One thing that struck me about this novel was how utterly wild the Wild West was.  By that, I mean characters could live their entire lives with little to no contact with the larger world or even other people.  People could and did start their own homestead and live their lives with only the most minimal contact with society.

In today’s hyper-connected world, where we are constantly bombarded with information from around the world, this may seem appealing.  Such isolation, however, has a dark side.  We see this darkness in The Orchardist.  We learn early on that Jane and Della are runaways from what can only be termed sexual slavery.  A man named Michaelson keeps a brothel.  However, the brothel is full of children and young women who are kept captive there as slaves. It is unclear where these women came from, but it is suggested that many of them were kidnapped and several are the children of the slaves.  If a woman dares to escape, Michaelson sends out his men to hunt them down and bring them back.

Everybody in the sparsely populated community knows what goes on in Michaelson’s place, but nobody does anything about it.  This aspect of the novel puzzles me.  Surely, even in the Wild Wild West, there were laws about kidnapping and sexual slavery? Or did nobody care because the slaves were just “whores”?

Maybe some of you readers know more about the history of these times and can elucidate me.  I know that brothels existed (and still do), but I assumed the women working there were adults who chose this way to make a living.  Was Michaelson’s brand of sexual servitude for white women common in that day and region?

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7 thoughts on “The Too-Wild-West: Amanda Coplin’s “The Orchardist”

  1. Pingback: WWW Wednesdays | BOOKING IT

  2. I would think there could be a lot of lawlessness because there was no law around. It reminds me a movie with Jimmy Stewart. An outlaw gang comes through a small western town. Stuart is supposed to be the sheriff. But it had been a ceremonial, administrative kind of position. Then he has to decide was to do about the gang. He is hoping they will just get tired of being there and drift away. Well they start causing real trouble like raping a woman. When a young man tries to rescue her they kill him. So Stewart is forced to confront them. I think people in these remote places may have felt the same way. Afraid to get involved.

    • That makes a lot of sense, Deborah. Some of these outlaw types were pretty darn ornery and probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone who tried to get in their way. Thanks for stopping by!

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