Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

There are some stories no one wants to hear. Some stories, one told, won't let you go so easily. I'm not talking about the tedious, the pointless, the disgusting: the bugs in your bag of flour; your hour on the phone with the insurance people; the unexplained blood in your urine. I'm talking about narratives of tragedy and pathos so painful, so compelling, that they seem to catch inside you on a tiny hook you didn't even know you'd hung. You wish for a way to pull the story back out; you grow resentful of the very breath that pushed those words in the air. Stories like this have become a specialty of mine. [opening paragraph]


The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
Doubleday, 2010
Fiction; 320 pgs

Author Octavia Frost is on her way to deliver her latest manuscript to her editor when she catches a glimpse of a news story about her estranged son being arrested for murdering his girlfriend. Not sure what else to do, Octavia heads for San Francisco to be there for her son. The reception she receives is chilly, however. Milo doesn't want to see her. Just as she is thinking of returning home, she discovers a note in a sugar bowl that changes her mind. She's sure her son couldn't have committed the murder and maybe she can help prove he didn't.

Octavia's world evolves around her writing, and she often looks at life through the lens of a story unfolding. She has regrets about the past, especially about her relationship with her rock star son, Milo. When Milo was nine, his father and sister died tragically, leaving just him and Octavia. She and he are a lot of alike and constantly butted heads as he was growing up. She wasn't there for him as much as she would have liked, lost in her own grief and not quite sure how to handle his.

While there is a mystery aspect to the book, the main thrust of the story is of Octavia's reflection on her own life and of her relationship with her son. She is getting to know him again, as if for the first time. The author did a good job of capturing Octavia's thoughts and feelings. I wasn't sure what to think of Octavia for most of the book, but she showed a lot of growth as the novel progressed. By the end, I quite liked her.

It took me a while to get into the novel. Interspersed throughout the novel were excerpts of Octavia's latest writing project, a book called The Nobodies Album. Octavia has taken to rewriting the endings to all her novels and hopes to publish them in an anthology of sorts. Had she written those same stories today, how differently would they have ended? This was her opportunity to change the past, so to speak. I was less than impressed with the excerpts, however, and think that the novel would have come off fine without them, perhaps even better if only for the lack of distraction. The same connections the author made in the excerpts were made in the actual story as well. Although, I will say the excerpts got better towards the end.

There were several passages I wish now I had jotted down to share with you, phrases and ideas that caught my fancy. As a person who loves stories, I was drawn to Octavia's observations and take on life, especially in regards to her writing--how it affected her life and how her life affected her writing.

While I enjoyed The Nobodies Album in the end and came to care for all of the characters, I still felt a bit disappointed when all was said and done. I do think I'd like to give the author another try. She clearly has a way with words and is able to get inside the minds of her characters.

Rating: * (Good)

For more information about the author and her books, visit her website.

Source: Received book through BookBrowse First Impressions Program.


© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

16 comments:

  1. Interesting premise - and I truly enjoy a book that focuses on word craft. I think I might give this one a try.

    Thanks for the terrific, honest review.

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  2. I'm sorry this wasn't a winner for you, Wendy. I really liked Carolyn Parkhurst's first two novels and have been looking forward to reading this one (still am).

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  3. Like you, I found the excerpts a distraction. More so at first than toward the end. Parkhurst writes beautifully, and there were several beautiful and thoughtful passages that I wish I jotted down as well. Although I enjoyed the book more than you did, I agree with your assessment completely.

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  4. I like the premise of the story too..I think it's interesting how she keeps rewriting her endings.

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  5. I have heard varying things about this book, but one of the things that draws me in is the stories within the story. I am sorry to hear it wasn't an unqualified success with you though, and will be reading with your thoughts in mind. Thanks for the honest review!

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  6. Too bad you didn't enjoy this one more. It sounded like a good concept/premise that just wasn't fully realized by the author.

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  7. This sounds kind of like meta-fiction which isn't my favorite. I'll put this on my maybe list.

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  8. I've been hearing some mixed reviews of this one but it does sound interesting. I don't know that I'd rush out and get it but I may have to think about it for when I want to try something a bit different.

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  9. I read her book "The Dogs of Babel" ages ago and just loved it. I think I'll end up reading this ... I love the opening paragraph.

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  10. I'm about 3/4 of the way through this one, and I'm almost dreading the review. It is such a unique, clever book. Something that is unlike just about anything I've ever read. I think I will probably end up liking a little more than you. I love the excerpts. They are such a reflection on Octavia, and her state of mind!

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  11. I'm glad to see your review. I've been so curious about this book. But I'm even more undecided now, haha!

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  12. Thanks for the review, Wendy! I like the sound of the opening paragraph. You're right. The author does have a way with words. I have read some of the books you recommended and I was never disappointed.

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  13. I'm still on the fence with this one. I've seen mixed reviews. I don't know - I may eventually end up reading it.

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  14. I've been wondering about this one because it seems like such a weird premise.

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  15. Hmm---just not sure what to make of this author. I really didn't like her "The Dogs of Babel" and this one seems to be getting mixed reviews. She seems to be one that has some redeeming points but are they enough to make me want to read her stuff? Not sure.

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  16. I know that quite a few people really enjoyed this one. I haven't read any of her other books, although I'm pretty sure I have Dogs of Babel around here somewhere.

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments!

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