Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ghosting-chasing the orchid

Book: The Orchid Thief

Author: Susan Orlean

Published: 1998 (Ballentine)

Pages: 282

Finding this book in real life made me wonder for just a second if the universe’s prop department was working overtime. Which is a fancy way of saying Adaptation is one of my favorite movies and so surreal that I never fully believed it was based on a real book until I read that book myself.

There are over 30,000 different species of orchid and apparently a fanatic to go with each one. This is the story of, like, six or seven as told to a New Yorker staff writer while she trekked through Florida swamp, Seminole land, and hurricane-ravished greenhouses in a search that became increasingly about finding her own grasp of passion among people she desperately wants to understand.

She never quite does, but she gets pretty damn close, symbolized by the ghost orchids she seeks with increasing urgency but never finds in bloom. The further I got in, the faster I read to see what else she would unpeel about this story.

Her guide—well, entry, at least—into this world is John Leroache, who comes across as a self-taught borderline hillbilly (the rest of the South knows that Florida is just different, y’all) possible genius with a noticeable amount of ADD sprinkled into how he picks, obsesses over, and drops interests. His tangents give her an excuse to wander through the histories of Florida land scams, Native American migration, plant scouting and domestic cultivation, and her own resistance to letting her roots grow too deep.

It’s all interesting and all fits together somehow and all feels like wandering through the thought process of a smart lady learning everything she can about something new. I wish there had been photos, because I couldn’t picture the different flowers in my head as she described them because I don’t have a baseline of what an orchid looks like beyond this cover. Which part is the “lip,” again?

Once in awhile I could tell the original article she wrote from the New Yorker had been basically copied and pasted into the middle of this manuscript because she would introduce people that she’d already talked about. And if I squinted one eye and mentally rearranged some chronology, I could maybe see where it could be pasted into a movie, albeit a much more low-key one than Caughmann’s.

There is still a central thread of following an obsession to see how far it will make a person go, and that will always lead to wonderfully strange places.

Bookshelf. Also reminded me to grab my good DVDs from my parents’ house and finally bring them to my apartment over a year later. Finally starting to feel like this place is actually mine.       

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