I just finished The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst – just in time for her reading this afternoon at Politics & Prose here in DC. This is the second Parkhurst book I've read – the first was Lost and Found, which I reviewed shortly after launching this blog in 2006. I definitely recommend The Nobodies Album, which I had a hard time putting down over the last few days.
The Nobodies Album is a complicated book. Its narrator – Olivia Frost – is a famous novelist whose books are usually rather disturbing, dealing often with the death of a child or a parent, usually under tragic circumstances (drowning, suicide, etc.) Olivia herself lost both her husband and daughter in a tragic accident, leaving her with a young son, Milo. When The Nobodies Album opens, Olivia is about to drop off with her editor the manuscript for her latest work, in which she re-writes the last chapter of all of her previous books. At that same time, Milo – who is now in his late 20s, a famous rock star, and estranged from his mother – is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. The rest of the book is essentially three things: a murder mystery, an exploration of Octavia and Milo's relationship, and a discourse on the nature of fiction writing.
I really liked this book. There is a lot going on, and some of the interspersed chapter rewrites from Octavia's former novels, which are sprinkled throughout the book, are a bit jarring as they break up the flow of the murder plot. But everything in here makes sense. The prior novels reveal a lot about Octavia and how she got to where she is, as do her re-writes, which are each a part of her attempt to make peace with Milo. There are so many themes in this book – regret, forgiveness, the creative process, the nature of parenthood – it's very rich.
I especially enjoyed the passages about writing. Here's one I liked:
There's an analogy I came up with once for an interviewer who asked me how much of my material was autobiographical. I said that the life experience of a fiction writer is like butter in cookie dough: it's a crucial part of flavor and texture – you certainly couldn't leave it out – but if you've done it right, it can't be discerned as a separate element. There shouldn't be a place that anyone can point to and say, There – she's talking about her miscarriage.
This is a fascinating book, in addition to being beautifully paced, with just enough tension to propel the reader forward with great anticipation. I don't want to give away much more than that (there are a lot of spoilers). I really recommend The Nobodies Album, and I can't wait to hear what Parkhurst has to say this afternoon! I will report back.