As I thought about this review, I found myself comparing this book to the last one I read by Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel. Dogs of Babel was a powerful, moving book that left itself imbedded in my head. Yet at the same time, parts of the story didn’t make much sense and seemed a little ridiculous, and that irritated me because I find her writing so intense. It’s like she’s really good at conveying emotion but loses control of her plot. She tries a little hard to develop two concurrent plot lines and they don’t completely work.
Babel is about a guy whose beloved wife dies after falling out of a tree in their yard. It appears to be suicide, but the husband, devastated, needs to know for sure. The only witness is their dog, so the husband racks his brain trying to get his dog to communicate what happened. Then the husband hears about some weird cult that is trying to teach and/or physically alter dogs so they can speak human words.
Ridiculous,right? Absolutely. But the emotion in this book was so real it haunted me long after I finished the book.
So when Parkhurst published The Nobodies Album, I knew I’d read it. I think this book is a much more restrained, cohesive book, but it still suffers from an unrealistic storyline and two conveniently-related plots that run side by side.
Nobodies Album is about Octavia Frost, a successful novelist, who has just completed the work of a lifetime: she’s rewritten the endings to all of her previous novels. Then she finds out that her 28-year-old son Milo has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend. He’s been caught literally red-handed. Milo is the singer in a super-famous rock band, so this isn’t just a family crisis, it’s front page news.
Octavia immediately flies out to California to see her son, only she and the son haven’t spoken to each other in years. The reason for their estrangement is explained gradually through the endings of each of Octavia’s books.
The book is sort of alternately brilliant and cheesy at the same time, thus my comparison to her earlier book. The book gives us, gradually, the last chapters (original and rewrite) from all of Octavia’s novels. This was a really cool way to show us who Octavia is as a person, and also why Milo resents her so much. At the same time, the whole change-the-ending theme was a little over the top, as was Milo’s superstardom and the sensational nature of the murder.
This is a book about what it’s like to be a writer, and I loved that aspect of it. Parkhurst takes us deeply into the persona of a successful novelist who puts all of her emotional conflict into her work. Octavia isn’t a very likeable parent, but she does seem real and her struggles seem like honest ones.
Like Dogs of Babel, Parkhurst combines the reality of grief and the blame and confusion that follows, with a fairly unrealistic story that just seems a little too hard to buy. Octavia the successful writer, Milo the superstar, his friend the aging hipster rock star (think Bono or Morissey), and of course the cast of characters who may or may not have committed a brutal murder.
And yet the relationship between Milo and Octavia will draw you in. And in the end, I have to recommend this book just as much as I would recommend Dogs of Babel. It may be flawed, but Parkhurst’s writing is vastly more memorable than most of what I read.