Orchard of Dust is a curious work of fiction by Brian Bahr. The reason I think it is curious is because I'm not sure what to make of it, which was a persistent thought in my mind throughout the time I read it and a thought that remains as I write this review.
It is a short novel, as novels go, at 133 pages. The chapters are also short, just 2-3 pages for most, and they are named after the principal character in the chapter. This was one of the first problems I had in trying to grasp the "whole" of this work, because rarely do the characters have names. Instead they are named according to their role and it took a fair amount of reading before I grasped that fact and then tried to recall how their various threads wove through the storyline.
Another thing I found perplexing was that Orchard of Dust is not so much a story but snapshots of various characters, with one character who perhaps dominates the snapshots, but none of the characters seem to connect with more than 2 or 3 of the others. Reading the narrative is a bit like looking at a photo album filled with candid pictures and seeing faces that eventually become familiar, but then reaching the album's end and being unsure what it was all about, because the pictures aren't really organized around a theme, and some of them are placed out of chronological sequence.
One thing that became clear as my reading progressed is that the story contained a lot of violence. It affected nearly every character in some way and it seemed to have a particularly malevolent nature. The violence was so mindless and meaningless that I began to view the story as a perhaps being a glimpse into Nihilism. The definition of Nihilism as an "absolute and total destructiveness, especially towards the world at large and including oneself" would accurately describe the outcomes of actions that the characters of Orchard of Dust repeatedly and willingly participated in. (dictionary.com)
A distracting characteristic, for me, was the descriptive style used by Bahr. He made use of a lot of adjectives, possibly to excess in number and probably to excess in obscurity. I don't read a lot of fiction but I have, I think, a well-developed, if not always fully used, vocabulary. Time and again, and again, Bahr used words that caused me to reach for a dictionary. Then, conversely, he once used the same adjective to describe two very different nouns on the same page and other times he used particular adjectives too many times for a book of this length. I am not certain if the fault in those cases is Bahr's or his editor's but it is something that takes away from reading and understanding the story.
Orchard of Dust reminds me of a piano I once sold. After talking to a number of potential buyers I developed a clear sense of how to screen them and weed out the ones whom I knew would not really want my piano. If you are looking to read a story that flows easily, with a clear protagonist, antagonist and some interesting ancillary characters, this book is not for you. But if you are looking for a short work that may make your mind wrestle with it a bit to see where it fits according to your own worldview then Bahr may have written something a book that you can grapple with.