The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

My name is Brigid Chapin, and I am a bibliophile.


Today over at her wonderful reader, my good friend V engaged in a self-indulgent exercise which achieved the ambition of getting out what was on her mind and providing a piece of interesting, thoughtful reading material. She posted a movie review. Give it a look, it’s for the film Brick, which was very good, but not quite for me.

V manages to watch an alarming number of movies in a week. As for me, I do really love my movies, but I don’t quite devour them. They’re not such a staple in my life as, say, books. Books I ingest like food, like between the covers their rests a banquet, like ink and paper itself is all the nourishment one needs. I worship books. (If this all sounds over-the-top, well- trust me, it’s not.)

So, I’ve decided to take a cue from V, and, rather than rant on end to her about the books I’m in the middle of, post all of my gush right here, on this page. (This is where I stop being choosy about my words and just write.)

To begin, a little information, I think. My name is Brigid Chapin, I’m sixteen, but not for long. Over the summer I got into the habit of reading two or three books in a week. Summer is over now, but that has an interestingly nonexistent effect on my literary appetite. I’m a bit more laden with classes, and my time is not quite as much my own, but we all manage, right?

Ever since I was young (think third grade- seven or eight years old) I’ve been one of those people who was always in the middle of a book. Even if I wasn’t reading it at that instant (there were not many instants like that) there was some book, of on a table or chair or under a couch, that I was halfway through. When I finish one book, a trip to the library is immediately planned for the next day, or I already have one set aside, or I just went ahead and borrowed four or five at a time to save the effort.

And about 90% of what I read is borrowed from a library. I have a fine number of books, but books are expensive, and for whatever reason I’ve noticed that when I pay for a book, I’m far less likely to love it. When I get a book from the library, it’s nearly always something fantastic. But too many times I’ve paid for a book just to decide halfway through that it’s really not worth finishing (and then I go to the library).

So last week I was at the library, and I borrowed two books. The first one was a small book of short stories, bizarre and not entirely my cup-o-tea, and I finished it in a day. It was called Further Adventures in the Restless Universe in case you’re interested. I’m not going to talk about that one today.

After finishing that, I rounded off a trilogy I’d been reluctant to finish because the first book was about nine hundred kinds of fantastic, and I was very, very worried that the sequels would not live up. They lived up. It had to be one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read and I’m feeling fuzzy just thinking back on it. Those are the Hunger Games books, by the way. Go read them. No, really. You. Go read them. Yes, you.

I’m not going to talk about those books either. (Even though they’re amazing and you should go read them right now.)

Here’s what I had in mind: I read a book, and the instant I finish it, I revisit this blog and punch out my review, unplanned and unedited. Does that sound roughly palatable?

Also, the title of the book is the title of the blog entry, so there’s no point suspending that over your eager heads. The book that I finished, about two and a half hours ago (hush, a blog takes a little while to set up), is The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst.

The Nobodies Album is about a widow-authoress in “the winter of her career” who just finished her latest book, a composite of the final chapters from her last seven novels, revised to remove any flecks of her personal life that may have bled into the writing. The first chapter empowers you with the knowledge that she has a son, named Milo, who is a famous rockstar, lead singer of a band called Pareidolia, whom she has been estranged from for four years. Sometime, way back in Milo’s childhood, something terrible happened, but you don’t learn more about that until chapter two, and you don’t learn what REALLY happened until chapter… fourteen, or fifteen.

As Octavia (our heroine/narrator) is flying into Boston with the completed manuscript for The Nobodies Album, she sees a shocking headline: her son has been arrested on the charge of murdering his girlfriend, Bettina.

That’s our setup. I’ll be honest: for a week or so, in discussing this book with other people, I would often use the phrase, “it’s readable, but not great.” I didn’t think it was a bad book and I wasn’t going to abandon it, but to me, Octavia read as desperate and on the dark side of pathetic concerning her son. Also, it was interspersed with excerpts from her books and chapters from The Nobodies Album, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem with me (I handle broken narratives very, very well) except that I didn’t particularly like her writing. Whenever one of those started, I really just wanted to get through it, but it was supposed to be sort of building a picture of what she was like because every writer puts a bit of herself into her writing.

So she went to California.

Then I reached the halfway point. (No, she didn’t spend half of the book getting to California, she flew there and it happened by roughly page 30, if memory serves.) It’s just that the first half wallowed in that not-great-not-terrible grey area. It was when I reached the halfway point- that’s when I got involved.

This is where she was reunited with Milo, and the first time she sees him, he’s near hysterical, because he thinks he might have killed Bettina. He doesn’t know, because he can’t remember anything from that night. There was a lot of evidence against him and he knew that they’d been fighting, and they hug and it’s incredibly tearful and emotional.

This is also where we meet Roland, who was possibly my favorite character. He wasn’t huge, but he wasn’t a bit part, either. He had some very meaningful scenes, and great dialogue. Roland is an older rockstar who enjoyed his fame in the 70s, but is sort of like Paul McCartney- not producing great music anymore, but still famous for what he did. He’s sort of a mentor/skewed father-figure to Milo, and allowing to Milo to stay in his house while the whole everything is happening. Here’s the prediction I made about Roland: he would either get with Octavia, or he would be the murderer. Honestly, they were alone quite often.

Okay. But. Tearful and emotional, a group of friends sharing knowledge and getting comfortable. This is where I started to really like the book.

This book is not about a murder trial; it’s the current that pulls the story along, because Octavia, Roland, Joe, and Chloe all know that Milo is innocent and they’re not entirely sure how to defend him. But that’s really not the important part.

The whole idea behind this book is that nothing is over if you don’t want it to be. This was Octavia’s motivation behind writing The Nobodies Album, and why she thought the idea was so groundbreaking; she had taken her completed books, and finished them again. Her agent and her publisher weren’t quite as enthusiastic about the project, but she knew. She wanted this book to happen.

The other thing that wasn’t over was her relationship with Milo, and the pain they were still feeling from the tragedy they had suffered mutually eighteen years earlier. The slight she has caused him unintentionally, but has to understand if she wants to understand him. (I didn’t like that part- I thought he had every right to feel stung, but I wondered how thoughtless she had to be not to figure it out, it was so transparent.)

My favorite part of the book is from the chapter “Notes on Hamelin- from the notebook of Octavia Frost, November 2010.” Hamelin was the book she’d never published- her first book, the one she’d been working on for ten years, until the tragedy, before she abandoned it and hid it away. “There are some stories nobody wants to read.” Hamelin was inspired by the story of the Pied Piper, and it was about the one child who hadn’t followed the Piper because he was crippled- he couldn’t keep up with the procession. This was not an excerpt from the book, it was notes on the character development of Theodor, the boy, interspersed with memories of Milo from the year following the tragedy. It was powerful. I was doing the entire, cease breathing, constrict throat, suppress tears thing, it was that fantastic.

And the book, Hamelin… I would have borrowed it from the library. It was the only book of hers that I really liked. Imagine being the last child left in a village where everyone else’s children had been stolen. It was dark, heartwrenching, painful, and intelligent. I wish I could read that book.

Alright, that was a lot of flail. Quick conclusion: I liked the book, especially the second half, but I didn’t love Octavia. I didn’t dislike her, and I can’t really pinpoint what it was about her- to say that she was weak, or pathetic by this point, would be unfair. And she was good vessel to carry us through the story. At seemingly-random times she would stop her narrative entirely and spout several pages of very-readable philosophy.

The impending trial I was intrigued by because it was a Whodunnit, but it had it’s weaknesses. After one Big Reveal, I sort of stared at the page for a bit and went.. “Huh? And that didn’t show up in the press? Why doesn’t Octavia know that already? That SO would have been in the newspaper.”

The last chapter was one of those things that spends two pages going through EVERYTHING that happens after the contents of the book, which I find satisfying because the narrator is acknowledging that the story has rounded off. All that’s left are the loose ends, and those don’t need a ton of exposition.

My god, that was spiel-y. I won’t make excuses for why. Next time will be more organized, I promise. The thing is I’m not completely sure when I can start my next book (which I’ve got sitting right in front of me) because tomorrow looks busy with class and being tired.

But, y’know, whenever.

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 3:09 am  Comments (3)  
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