Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Nook - The Orchid Thief

The Orchid Thief written by Susan Orlean:

On New Year's Eve, DH, two of his sisters, our brother-in-law, and myself all sat around our kitchen table to play a game of Monopoly while the Bachsters watched a movie.  Somewhere in the corners of my brain, I remembered hearing an interesting fact about the creator of the game, Charles Darrow - that he did something interesting with the fortune he had made.  All evening, I tried to remember just what it was, but maybe I was too distracted by the spread of munchies and sweets, or the fact that my thimble was loosing big time or maybe it was the fact that I had one glass too many of champagne (hey, it was New's Year's!), I didn't remember the elusive information until the next day.  He spent his fortune on orchids!

And I got this little bit of trivia from The Orchid Thief, written by Susan Orlean.  I thought this was going to be a very different kind of book, just based on what I gathered from reading the back cover.  The book says it's about this guy named John Laroche, who is inexplicably handsome despite the fact that he is missing his front teeth and has terrible posture.  Laroche is going through a trial for being caught (along with a couple of Seminole Indian accomplices) trying to steal rare wild orchids from Southern Florida's Fakahatchee Strand.  I was expecting a story about Laroche, who this unusual character is, and the circumstances that led up to his situation.

And the book does go there, but it also takes us to very unexpected places, like some faraway jungle with competing orchid hunters; a Seminole tribe pow-wow, getting lost in the Fakahatchee while searching for the evasive ghost orchid; driving with Laroche, who sometimes only steers with one knee; inside the story of Chief Osceola and his missing head; the Victorians and their love for orchids and insistence that they are not appropriate for women; and numerous characters and personalities in the plant world, including John Laroche, who are absolutely obsessed.

And that's pretty much what the book is - lots of stories and unusual facts about plants and orchids and the people that love them.  On the periphery is the story of John Laroche, his trial and his fickle obsessions.  All keenly observed and written with wit and intelligence by Orlean.

Interestingly, the movie Adaptation is based on the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, played by Nicolas Cage, who tried to bring this story to the big screen.  Orlean is played by Meryl Streep.  I haven't seen the movie, but I wonder if it's as quirky as the book.  That's a good word to describe it, because it's all about quirky plants and the quirky people who love them.  People like John Laroche.  Or Charles Darrow.

I'll have to remember that the next time I play Monopoly.


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