The Orchid Thief
The Orchid Thief is based on Orlean's investigation of the 1994 arrest of John Laroche and a group of Seminoles in south Florida for poaching rare orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. The book is based on an article that Orlean wrote for The New Yorker, published in the magazine's January 23, 1995 issue. Plant dealer Laroche was determined to find and clone the rare ghost orchid for profit. Along the way, Orlean becomes fascinated with ghost orchids and meets many orchid enthusiasts. In their and Laroche's struggles and oddities, she gets a glimpse of true passion for the first time in her life.
The book received a mixed reception on publication. Most critics noted both the strength of the prose and the compelling subject, while some criticized the overall trajectory of the book. Positive reviews included that of Michael Pearson at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who called it "a rare and exotic tale that shows a journalist's gifts in full bloom." New York Magazine noted the "hilariously reported, discursive narrative wanders" in many directions, but saw that as a core strength of the work.
Critical reviews tended to note the level of tangents in the story and lack of a structure suitable for a book of length. Ted Conover, in a mixed review for the New York Times, noted the giftedness of the storytelling, while noting that Orlean's structure often suffered in her first book-length effort. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Kristen Lillegard was harsher, noting the lack of forward motion in a story that "wilt[ed] under the weight of facts and figures."
The book was later adapted by Charlie Kaufman for Spike Jonze's film Adaptation. (2002), with Nicolas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman, Tilda Swinton as Valerie Thomas, Meryl Streep as Orlean and Chris Cooper as Laroche. The film is a satire on the process of adaptation, in which Orlean's book is turned into a formulaic Hollywood thriller.
In 2012, Orlean told GQ that reading the screenplay "was a complete shock. My first reaction was 'Absolutely not!' They had to get my permission and I just said: 'No! Are you kidding? This is going to ruin my career!' Very wisely, they didn't really pressure me. They told me that everybody else had agreed and I somehow got emboldened. It was certainly scary to see the movie for the first time. It took a while for me to get over the idea that I had been insane to agree to it, but I love the movie now. What I admire the most is that it's very true to the book's themes of life and obsession, and there are also insights into things which are much more subtle in the book about longing, and about disappointment."
- "The Orchid Thief Summary - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved 2017-06-09.
- "Crime of Passion". The Atlanta Constitution. 7 February 1999. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
- Lange, Alexandra (11 January 1999). "The Orchid Thief". New York.
- Conover, Ted (3 January 1999). "Flower Power". The New York Times.
- Lillegard, Kirsten (14 March 1999). "A Passion for Plants". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
- Kevin Perry. "The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean on crafting a story and being played by Meryl Streep in Adaptation". GQ. 16 April 2012.
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