At the turn of the 20th century, there lived a man in the outposts of Oregon who raised apples and apricots on land that encompassed hundreds of acres. He lived alone and he was content. His name was William Talmadge.
To support his simple life, Talmadge sold his fruit at the market in the nearby town. This provided him with means and also the opportunity to visit his one constant friend, Caroline Middy. The routine never changed as the years went by until one day Talmadge observed two girls — both pregnant — steal fruit from his stall. Not begrudging them food, he let them go.
Soon, the girls — Della and Jane — appeared in his orchard and as with a stray animal, Talmadge slowly lured them in with food left on the porch while keeping his own distance. In time the girls came to trust Talmadge and, given their advanced stage of pregnancy, began to stay under his sheltering watch.
When both Jane, and Della’s baby, fail to survive, Talmadge takes Della and the remaining baby into his home and into his heart. As the story unfolds, Talmadge learns why the girls were wandering alone and pregnant. Caring for Della and the baby, he becomes as much their father as any man could be. This fateful turn in his life’s path provides the joy and the heartbreak to follow him through his days.
This beautifully written novel of sweeping scope examines in new ways the meaning of family, devotion and sacrifice — all perfect themes for book club discussions.
Harper Perennial/HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06218-851-9; $15.99.