Monday, July 5, 2010

Staff Pick: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

Our customers probably saw Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst on the sidebar of our July newsletter under "Staff Picks," but I wanted to tell you how it got there and why we love it as much as we do.

As you can see, the picture on the cover is beautiful, mysterious and sad, which makes it absolutely perfect for this book. It looks like a little boy is lost at sea, standing on a life preserver, looking away from the viewer. That's how the book starts: there is a grown boy who needs to be saved, but he's looking away.

There are many wonderful layers to this book. In one way, it's the story of Octavia Frost's effort to save her 27 year-old son Milo, from whom she's been estranged for four years. Milo is a young rock star accused of murdering his girlfriend in their MTV-style Hollywood home. But it's not just murder charges from which Milo needs to be saved. He needs to be saved from the pain of a family tragedy that occurred when he was a boy, from the wounds of being a survivor in a fractured family, and from the harm that more recently came from his own mother's words. Milo was deeply hurt by the way Octavia described a fictional family in one of her previous novels; it came too close to being an autobiographical account of their own family tragedy. Parkhurst reveals Octavia and Milo's true family history so slowly and tenderly that when you finally learn what happened, you feel like you've suffered their loss as well. You'll "get" Milo and you'll want to save him too.

But in the meantime there's a mystery to solve, aging rockers to meet, and most importantly, books to rewrite. Even before the murder, Octavia had sensed that she wanted to rewrite her life and to reach out to Milo. She had just rewritten the endings of her previous novels in a genre-bending new manuscript called Nobodies Album, named for a musical game she and Milo used to play. As if lifted from Octavia's imaginary manuscript, there are sections in this book for each of Octavia's previous novels that include the title, the jacket copy, the published ending and Octavia's revised ending.

For the reader, these fascinating faux-novels can work like complimentary short stories that reveal even deeper truths about Octavia and Milo's past. You'll find yourself playing games with these stories-within-the-story: which one is your favorite? Which one had the best revised ending? Would it change anything if Milo would read the revised endings, or is Octavia's apparent change of heart enough? Can you ever really rewrite your life?

My favorite story was The Human Slice. It could stand alone as a haunting short story about parental regret, loss and memory. A whole family suffers when baby Jonah dies in a horrible, preventable tragedy. Later, a strange new disease strikes their community and causes selective memory loss, so that those who are stricken are unable to remember sad events. Is it a gift to be relieved of the pain of remembering Jonah, or is it a loss? If you're like me, that question will haunt you for a long time to come.

The unique combination of these highly original faux-stories with a rock-star murder mystery and a lovely tale of mother-son reconciliation makes for a fabulously original, deeply satisfying read. Please stop in and pick up Nobodies Album before your own summer is nothing but a memory.

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