Wednesday, September 8, 2010

There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Book

This weekend, I bought a book.  I paid actual cash money.  And then, I read that book.  In great, big, gulps.  Hubband pointed out that paying $26 for a book, and then reading it in as many hours, was a waste of money.  I should at least make it last awhile.  But, I just couldn't.

The book was The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst.

I read one of Parkhurst's earlier novels, Lost and Found, and I loved it.  I was so engaged that I cried by page eight (though the novel itself is not a big weeper).  Her writing style is such that, to my brain at least, the book sort of read itself.  And, she has a way of making even unlikeable characters sympathetic.  I found myself thinking about the book, even when I was not reading it.  I think the word is resonance.  I liked it so much, I wrote her a fan letter.  And she wrote back.  (Note to all you writers:  If you answer your fan mail you will sell books, even if it is only one at a time.)  So, I was eager to read her follow up.

The narrator of The Nobodies Album is Octavia Frost,  a successful writer, who has just finished her eighth novel, also called The Nobodies Album.  Octavia's fictional version is not really a novel at all, but a revision of the endings of her previous seven books.  She thinks this is ground breaking and revolutionary, but it is really just what it sounds like.  Weird.

As the novel opens (the real novel, not the fictional one written about within it) Octavia is in New York to deliver the book to her publisher.  In person.  This is a quirk that no one finds particularly charming, not even Octavia, but, as she puts it, "My idiosyncrasies are my right, and as long as everyone does me the courtesy of not mocking them to my face, we'll all get along fine."  Though I respect her attitude on this, (and I love the line), I am pretty sure I dislike this woman by page two, but as I mentioned, Parkhurst has a way of manipulating me fleshing out a character.  She also has a way of sneaking up on me, and wrenching my heart out, but more on that later.

Octavia Frost is a woman who has lost one child to tragedy and another to estrangement.  A woman whose rock-star son just got arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.  A writer who thinks that if she can re-write her novels, she can re-write her life.  A woman trying to get the butter, back out of the cookie dough.  (If you read the book, that last one will make sense.)

So, that's the set up.  But, what is the book about, you ask.  Well, hold on.  I'm going to tell you. 

The Nobodies Album is about how quickly the mother/child bond can go from latched on to disengaged to completely estranged, leaving the mother, at least, wondering, "When did this happen?  Where did I go wrong?"   Or, as Octavia puts it, "I don't know where the magic line might have been.  That's how it is with children, or at least how it's been with mine:  you have chances and chances and chances.  And then you have none."

It is a cautionary tale for any mother, like me, who has ever thought, "I can't wait until this baby is weened," or "I can't wait until his father gets home," or "I can't wait for school to be back in."  What are we so eager to get to, exactly?  The day they leave for college?  The first Christmas they would rather spend somewhere else?  The day when we are sitting in an old folks home, complaining that they never call?  As one of Octavia's characters puts it, "All children are lost, eventually."  We have to be careful not hasten that eventuality.

If you are a mother, and you don't get at least a little bit misty eyed by this book, you are made of stone, and it is no surprise that your kids never call.

That's the heavy stuff.  There is also a murder mystery (If you read it, I want to know when you figured out who dunnit.), some insightful truths about the world since the internet, and an amusing look at how easy it is to get even a bad book in print, if you are also willing to sell your soul, and write about your celebrity-criminal son.  And, it's funny, in a tragicomic, real life, sort of way, which is always nice.

So, would I recommend that you read The Nobodies Album.  Absolutely.  And, Ms. Parkhurst isn't even my cousin or anything.


  1. Oh, I love to get book recommendations! Though I have to admit, I am usually a wait-for-the-paperback kind of gal. Maybe I can splurge. It sounds like my kind of book.

  2. DFG, I was thinking of you when I was reading parts of it, because we have talked about these themes a lot lately.

  3. That sounds like a really good book! and boy, it's true..out kids grow up way too fast! Read it a second time if it makes the hubs feel any better about the price. ;)

  4. And to think, just today I was wondering when I could wean Mark... yes, what exactly is it we're trying to get to?
    Great post - thanks for the recommendation. I don't know what "Get the butter back out of the cookie dough" means exactly, but I love the line!

  5. Sounds intriguing! But now I'm feeling a bit guilty for the 'aaaaah' at having my days back to myself, but perhaps that is more an appreciation for the cycles of the year that allow for welcome changes? I hope that's what it is.

  6. Rebecca, I started to feel a little guilty when I was reading the book, but it was a good kind of guilty. A convicting sort of guilty.

    Enjoy your breathing room. We are people too. Our kids don't have to be our everything. But we should still be engaged. And I know you are.

    You too, Sunny.

  7. Well - I think I might just go ahead and read it. It sounds the kind of book I like. I'm reading loads at the moment - in between everything else. Which in fact translates pretty much as longing to read all day and then falling into bed and reading a couple of pages before I fall asleep sitting up. But I'm getting to be quite an expert at this.

  8. its weird thinking about it from a different perspective. I haven't spent an xmas with my mom in a while. I won't this year either. Its not that I don't want to, its just inconvenient to how my life is at the moment. I need to work, I'm in a relationship that I've committed to in serious ways, spending a month in South Carolina, away from the life I've made, just isn't reasonable. It sounds selfish, but at what point do we begin living for ourselves and less for the happiness of others [even our moms]. It doesnt mean we dont take some time, like I'll see her in October and probably the first week of January, before schools starts, but there is a part of growing up that means my xmas is 3000 and some change miles away from my mommy. *sigh* its not necessarily a happy thought, its just a life will never be the same thought.