"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

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Summary: When her estranged son is accused of murder, author Octavia Frost searches for forgiveness and connection.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher.

How do I begin to describe a complicated, fascinating book that occasionally haunts me as a parent but also intrigues me as a book lover?

Let me attempt to explain:

Author Octavia Frost is doing a brave, bold thing. She has re-written the endings to all of her published novels. As readers, we get the jacket copy of her book, the original ending, and the revised ending. (Wow! What books would I wish the endings rewritten? That's a great question for my book club.) And Octavia, like author Carolyn Parkhurst, writes dark, intensely sad stories about human love and human cruelty. My favorite story of Octavia's was The Human Slice. I want to read this fictional book, so intrigued was I by the excerpt and both the original and revised endings. I knew I wouldn't read most of Octavia's stories but eagerly read through the main story: Octavia's son Milo is accused of murdering his girlfriend.

Octavia is a widow, having lost her husband and daughter in an accident years ago, leaving Octavia and teenaged Milo to stumble along with their solo grief. Octavia is eaten up by her guilt and contentious relationship with Milo.
"I did one of the following things, just one. Did I (A) Walk away, leaving him to destroy the book in private? (B) Stand in his doorway, with my face in my hands, wondering whether or not to let him see me cry? Or (C) sit next to him on the bed and say, "Let's get rid of this thing. What do you think about burning it?" 
Never mind which one is true. Tell me which one would have changed things. Tell me which one would have led us, inevitably to an ending other than this one."
As an adult, Milo is a popular, talented musician who seems to have reached happiness, until his pretty girlfriend Bettina is found murdered in their bed, with Milo as the only suspect. Milo and Octavia have been estranged for years, and Octavia is an expert on all things Milo after Milo shut Octavia out of his life.  What even more disturbing about this brutal murder is that Milo is convinced he has killed Bettina, even though he can't remember.

Feeling panicked with his upcoming trial, Milo allows Octavia back into his life, and Octavia carefully builds trust and love with Milo, without having resolved the original reason Milo cut off all contact four years ago. Octavia is dangerously curious about Milo's life without her, and yet, she still is not convinced of Milo's innocence.

Octavia revisits her parenting of Milo, recognizing only too late where she should have stepped in and where she should have backed off.  Octavia's attempt to rewrite her books despite everyone knowing the ending mirror her attempt to rewrite her own history and past with Milo, even though once said (or written or published) some things cannot be unsaid. This is a dramatic, challenging book, written with astute observations about human motive and hidden thoughts.

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