THE ORCHARD by David Hopen

January 15, 2021

THE ORCHARD by David Hopen. Ecco (November 17, 2020). ISBN 978-0062974747. 480 pages.





January 14, 2020


From the publisher:

From the beloved author of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend comes a wonderful new novel about a struggling man, written entirely in lists.

Daniel Mayrock’s life is at a crossroads. He knows the following to be true:

1. He loves his wife Jill… more than anything.
2. He only regrets quitting his job and opening a bookshop a little (maybe more than a little)
3. Jill is ready to have a baby.
4. The bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. Dan doesn’t know how to fix it.
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble.
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.

This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances:

1. Dan wants to do something special.
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary.
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure.
4. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.

Dan is also an obsessive list maker; his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to do anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.

I am a fan of the epistolary novel and this is a very good one. The entire novel is written in lists, which makes for a very fast and fun read. Told entirely from Dan’s point of view, (these are his lists, after all,) and we learn about his work, his family, his life. At times very funny, at times serious, just like life.

Anyone who has ever owned or worked in a bookstore, or even a library for that matter, will appreciate the bookstore lists for sure. Like these:

Number of books sold today that I love

Number of books sold today that I despise

Number of books sold today that I despise that include vampires

And this little tidbit, the dark secret of the bookselling industry, #6 on a list entitled, “Things no one warned me about when I bought the bookstore:”

Most stolen book is The Bible

Dan is a very insecure man. Marrying a widow is not always easy, and Dan thinks he cannot live up to the husband that came before him but he struggles along anyway. He quit his job as a teacher to pursue the bookstore business, while Jill still teaches. As the old adage (which apparently no one told him about) goes, if you want to make a little money in a bookstore, start out with a lot of money. Dan’s business is tanking fast, and he is lying to Jill about it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but his letters to billionaires go unanswered, for the most part, leading him down a different path. Let’s just say hijinks ensue, and how fun it is that I get to say that.

There are some serious issues brewing as well, and Dan handles those as best as he can. Those lists alternate between being laugh out loud funny and completely heart wrenching. I was completely immersed in Dan’s world, and didn’t pick up my head until I turned the last page.  If you haven’t read an epistolary novel, or you are not sure, take a look at this one, it’s very good. And I cannot help but recommend my favorite epistolary novel, Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger.

If anyone listens to this book, I’d love to know what you think. I wish I could hear just a snippet, I’m curious how a book like this works in audio form. Audible, why don’t you have samples to listen to before you buy a book?

Finally, there is a brief mention of why Dan makes his lists. It appears fairly early in the book on a list that follows “Why I’m always writing shit down” with another list, “Real reasons for lists:”

Compromise at first with therapist because journaling sucks

Finished with therapist but lists became a habit

Thinking on the page

Makes sense of things

Putting things in lists puts them out of my head and lets me sleep.

Which reminded me of my recent dive into Bullet Journaling (see review of Love Lettering.) I love when my books move me in a circle.

1/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE by Matthew Dicks. St. Martin’s Press (November 19, 2019). ISBN 978-1250103482. 352p.