The Orchard Keeper is about as powerful a statement on the ethos of Appalachia as can be written in fiction.
McCarthy has been compared favorably to both Faulkner and Melville; the Orchard Keeper is more Faulkner-esque, in contrast to the Border trilogy, which is more Melville-esque. It is a truly challenging read. All the payoff is at the end when you sit back and let the entirety of what you just read sink in.
McCarthy is famously dismissive of punctuation, preferring a clean page. Nowhere do I appreciate this more than when he writes dialogue between denizens of the Appalachian Mountains. Far too many writers feel what appears to be a compulsive need to pepper such dialogue with an unending stream of superfluous apostrophes. It is a joy to see a writer put it on the page in such a way that it reads as it is spoken.
McCarthy is a true wordsmith. His prose is as close to poetry as prose gets.
There isn’t much to the plot. You could probably summarize the entire book in a single page. The Orchard Keeper follows a boy, a bootlegger, and an ornery old man in the Appalachian mountains of Depression-era east Tennessee. McCarthy makes you feel the horror of the boy when he tries to return the money the government had given him for the hawk. It’s also as powerful a statement for anti-government interference as can be made in fiction.
5 of 5 Stars.