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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: 'The Nobodies Album'

By Carolyn Parkhurst
June 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-52769-9

When we first meet Octavia Frost, Dear Reader, she could come across as a smug, knowledgeable woman more proud of her novels than her estranged rock star son. But, as with other things going on in The Nobodies Album, don't come to a hasty conclusion. There's a reason why Octavia and Milo haven't spoken in years.

Octavia is in Times Square, going to her publishers to drop off her latest project. It's called The Nobodies Album, a name that came from her son, and is new endings of her earlier works. But Octavia is not introduced as a woman who wants a second chance. Instead, her genesis for the reader is a meditation on how she affects the life of every reader of her works, how she puts ideas in their heads that were not there before. When she sees on the Times Square newscrawl that her rock star son has been arrested in San Francisco for the murder of his lover, she's on the next plane. Oh yes. She wants a second chance, the opportunity to rewrite her own life.

In between the segments of the main storyline of what happens when Octavia flies across the country to see if her son will let her back in, and what she can do to help him, are interspersed the original and revised endings of her novels. These are stunning pieces of meta-fiction that add so much knowledge to what happened to this family, and a solid understanding of how those who survived a horrific accident have been shaped.

There is a lot going on in this novel, but it's all paced perfectly. As Octavia meets the people now most important in her son's life, she also shows how people find out about celebrities in today's online world. She's nearly a cyber stalker. Later, the tables are momentarily turned on her. It's another layer to the main story of how people who love want a second chance when things go wrong. They just want to know what's going on, to do a better job, brush the mistakes away, make the connections stronger.

Parkhurst, whose Dogs of Babel was so appreciated, has much to say about writing itself and what it demands of a writer. She also has commentary dropped in here and there about what readers may think they discern about the writer herself based on the works. Parkhurst even has Octavia do the same thing about a fellow writer. And not by interpreting that writer's books, but by watching a movie based on a bestselling novel. We all know how faithful those adaptations are.

It's this kind of human foible presentations that keep The Nobodies Album, well, human. Parkhurst has tremendous ideas about ficiton and the process of writing, about second chances in life and how parents mess things up without meaning to hurt. She also has kept this novel firmly grounded in realistic characters who are not perfect and who are viewed through a lens of compassion. Finding out about the murder makes for a pretty zippy story, too.

Present all of that with the distinctive voice of Octavia Frost, an accomplishment in its own right, and The Nobodies Album is a lotta book in roughly 300 pages.

© 2010 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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