Superb work from an abundantly gifted young writer.

THE ORCHARDIST

Set in early-20th-century Washington state, Coplin’s majestic debut follows a makeshift family through two tragic decades.

“You belong to the earth, and the earth is hard,” 9-year-old Talmadge heard from his mother, who brought him and his sister Elsbeth to Washington in 1857 to cultivate an apple orchard after their father was killed. Their mother died three years later, and Elsbeth vanished five years after that, leaving Talmadge with a load of guilt that grew alongside his orchards. So when two starving, heavily pregnant teenage girls, Jane and Della, turn up on his land in 1900, he feels protective toward them even before he learns their history. They have run away from Michaelson, a monstrous opium addict who stocks his brothel with very young girls whom he sexually and physically abuses. When he turns up shortly after the girls have given birth, a shocking scene leaves only Della and Jane’s baby, Angelene, alive to be nurtured by Talmadge and his close friend Caroline Middey, an herbalist who warns him that Della is likely to disappear as his sister did. Sure enough, Della soon heads off for a peripatetic life of hard drinking and aimless wandering, driven by the hatred and fear instilled by her youth with Michaelson. Angelene grows up devoted to Talmadge and the orchard, worried by the knowledge that he still pines for Della and Elsbeth. Della sees her erstwhile tormentor being led off in handcuffs when Angelene is 13, setting in motion a disastrous chain of events that engulfs Talmadge and everyone he cares for. “Why are we born?” wonders Della, a question that haunts all the characters. Coplin offers no answers, only the hard certainties of labor and of love that are seldom enough to ease a beloved’s pain. Yet the novel is so beautifully written, so alive to the magnificence of the land and the intricate mysteries of human nature, that it inspires awe rather than depression.

Superb work from an abundantly gifted young writer.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-218850-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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