Susan Orlean, “The Orchid Thief”

I’d guess more people are familiar with Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Orlean in the movie “Adaptation” than anything else. This is the book Charlie Kaufman was attempting to adapt. Orlean’s New Yorker story about a man with a botched scheme to poach rare orchids from a protected Florida swamp using Seminole tribe members as his arbiters was fleshed out to a book with the help of an incredible amount of historical material. Orlean’s storytelling style is like refined dinner-party chatter, perhaps that of a distinguished professor who’s on his fifth snifter.

THE LOWDOWN
Published: 1998, 304 pp.
Obtained via: Library
Date started: 11.27.06
Date finished: 12.05.06
What I liked: The interaction between Orlean and John Laroche, the Orchid thief. In her reporting for the book, she spent weeks in Florida, and it’s very obvious that her fuse grew short with him.
What I didn’t like: Some of the historical tidbits go on for ages, although Orlean really knows how to pick the funniest ones.
What I learned: More than I ever thought I’d know about orchids and plant cultivation in Florida.
Unresolved question: In “Adaptation,” Streep as Orlean at one point seems to ingest a cocaine-like substance derived from orchids. So… that’s not real, right?

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