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Home » Books & writing

Book Review + Giveaway: Carolyn Parkhurst’s THE NOBODIES ALBUM

Submitted by on June 28, 2010 – 12:28 am 14 Comments

Carolyn Parkhurst‘s The Nobodies Album is such a unique book with such beautiful language, I won’t do it justice by compressing its ideas into a review. But hopefully I’ll pique your interest enough to get you to read it because I really, really want you to. Thanks to Doubleday, I’m even giving away two copies to help that along. But first, let me tell you a little more about it.

Octavia Frost is a famous author traveling to New York to turn in the manuscript for her latest book, The Nobodies Album. It’s unlike any of her previous novels because it consists solely of revised endings for all of them. While in Times Square, Octavia is stunned to see a news crawl on a Jumbotron announcing that her son Milo, lead singer of a rock band called Pareidolia, has just been arrested and charged with the murder of his live-in girlfriend. Octavia and Milo have been estranged for four years but she decides it’s time she tries to bridge the gap, literally and emotionally.

Throughout this book, excerpts from Octavia’s original endings and her rewritten ones are interspersed between the chapters dealing with the murder mystery. Though her stories range from paranormal to sci-fi and metaphysical, they reflect Octavia’s struggles to cope with a family tragedy, details of which are slowly revealed. The new endings are more hopeful than the previous versions, a blatant appeal for Milo’s attention since one of her books is the reason for their estrangement. The Nobodies Album is a phrase from a childhood game Milo used to play with her back when their family was whole.

Octavia’s attempt at reshaping her personal story through her fictional ones raises an interesting question: Since writers and artists inevitably inject parts of themselves into their work, should they be allowed to alter it as they evolve? As Octavia says to Roland, a Mick Jagger-y aging rock star who’s mentor to Milo:

“If I’ve changed since I wrote those books, if the way I see my life events is different, and the way I approach relationships is different…If I were writing any of those books now, they wouldn’t be the same books. I want to change the way I put myself in them.”

Roland responds:

“The only way you got here, to the point you’re at now, is by writing those books the way you did…I guess I’d just say that if you want to do something, do something new. And whoever you are now, whatever ways you’ve changed, that’s going to show up in the new work without your even trying.”

I’m with Roland in this debate, but I do understand the endless need to tinker with one’s words (this post alone took 84 hours), chasing perfection, knowing that complete satisfaction is elusive.

Photo by Marion Ettlinger

I don’t know how many revisions Parkhurst went through but her prose and dialogue are sublime. From Milo’s rocker talk to Octavia’s prim expressions and the media-ready soundbites of the dead girlfriend’s mother, each character’s speech has its own rhythm and sounds like how I imagine people like that would talk. Milo isn’t a spoiled celebrity, though; he shows sensitivity even while wary of Mom. Octavia is far from being a nice, cuddly woman but I don’t judge her. How can I criticize someone for the way she deals with grief?

The author also gives a lot of insight into the writing process, which I found fascinating:

I used to think it made me a good writer—look at me, honing my craft as I stand here to pour a cup of coffee, drafting and revising my descriptions of the mug, the smell, the sound of the hot splatter! Now I just find it tiresome, though it doesn’t seem to be something I can stop. An end to narration: that’s what I imagine death will be like.

While I don’t find it tiresome to come up with descriptions for this novel, Parkhurst is more eloquent than I so I’ll steal another quote from her to sum up my feelings:

You, the reader, shouldn’t be able to see what’s coming, but you should put the book down feeling satisfied that there’s no other way it could have gone.

And that I did.

Intrigued? If you’d like a chance to win one of two hardcover copies Doubleday is allowing me to give away:

  • be an e-mail subscriber or Twitter follower
  • leave a comment about a scene/chapter in your life you’d like to rewrite
  • have U.S. address, per Doubleday’s request

Giveaway ends Tuesday, July 6, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be randomly chosen via Random.org and announced here and on Twitter. Winners will have 48 hours to claim the prize before alternate names are chosen.

Now let’s hear your stories with new happy endings!

14 Comments »

  • Novelwhore says:

    Sounds interesting, PCN. It’s rather odd, but I love reading novels about the publishing world. That facet, tied in with an estranged, in-trouble-with-the-law family member makes for a read I would love to indulge in!

    As for a scene/chapter in my life I’d like to rewrite – I like to think of regret as a waste of time and energy, but if I could go back to high school knowing what I know now, I would definitely do things differently. Not a total rewrite, but maybe make some line edits…

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I’m like you in that I don’t have a lot of regrets. Not to say I’ve never made mistakes but they all taught me something and made me who I am. But yes, maybe a few line edits and small deletions would be good!

  • EIREGO says:

    Okay, you have my interest. AND THERE’S A GIVEAWAY?!?!?!? YAY! YAY!!

    On a serious note, a chapter I would rewrite in my life…..

    I was about to finish college and head to New York. My grades were top notch which allowed me to finish early. The small town boy in me was scared beyond bowel control. My dad set me down for a talk. I think he was scared for me.

    “Are you sure you want to do this?”
    “The only other option is to go after my Masters.”

    “We can’t afford that, you know.”
    “No point in getting a college degree and not trying to do anything with it.”

    A tear rolled down his eye, he gave me one of those one-hand, shoulder gripping hugs, slipped some cash into my hand and went off to work.

    So many things I should have said to him. If I re-wrote it, I would have.

    He passed away 5 years ago.

  • Scriptpimp says:

    I likey…

    Rewriting….., hmmm…

    I don’t like regrets either, NovelWhore (love the name, BTW) but for the sake of a free book….

    It’s about a girl (at least I hope it was)

    I’ll explain….

    My last year in college (yes, I went to school, too, EIREGO) and it is a few days before graduation/ My finals had all been taken and I passed with flying colors, so I was partying in the middle of the day. Went to the Student Union building for my mail. There was an envelope in my box. No return address, just my name, room number and dorm listed on it. I open it up. Inside was a paragraph that sobered me up a bit.

    I can only paraphrase at this point, but it went something like this:

    Hi,

    I have been watching you blossom since freshman year. Always near you, but never really as close as I wanted to be. Never had the guts to tell you how long I have been in love with you.

    If you know who this is, then great….maybe we can finally have a conversation about this and see if we can still have something before we head off to other lives. If you don’t, then I guess this was never meant to be.

    Me

    I still can’t for the life of me figure out who wrote the note.

    I don’t regret where my life took me, but I have always wondered if I missed out on something really special. I would like to see that letter re-written and end with an actual signature this time.

    But I love my wife and my life, so maybe it’s not so bad.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Ack! I know you’re happy with your situation now but don’t you still wonder who wrote it? Not because you want to hook up or anything but just to know.

      • Scriptpimp says:

        Well, of course I want to know, PCN. But I was in an on again/off again relationship with a girl from sophomore year to graduation. The entire campus body was only about 800 people. If I didn’t instinctively know who this girl was, then I didn’t really feel the same way, so it’s probably a good thing.

  • Reader#9 says:

    I don’t want to get all political, but the only thing I can think of that I wish I could re-write is to stop BP from drilling that whole in the first place.

    Do I still get entered?

  • I’m with Reader#9!

    The one sounds marvellous, PCN. You’ve piqued my interest and onto The List it goes. I love the title.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Oh good one, Reader #9. I’m gonna be like Shell and jump on your idea, too. And of course you’re entered.

      Shell, the title is just one of the lovely things about this book.

  • Carol Wong says:

    I am a new e-mail subscriber.

    I wrote the above last night when the electricity went out and the water main broke! Now the electricity is back on, still waiting for water!

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

  • Carol Wong says:

    OK,the scene or chapter in my life that I would have changed. Not sure, when I think of my past life there have been so many crossroads, if U had taken a different turn, things would have been so different. I wonder what would have happened if I had turned down the full time telephone company job and taken the part time editing job for children’s TV. I needed the full time job to pay the bills but it would have been so great to follow my bliss.

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Welcome, Carol! Thank you for subscribing. So glad you got your electricity back and hope the water will come soon.

      I hear you about paying the bills but that children’s TV job sounds so interesting. Maybe you can still do that one day?

  • Jeff says:

    I subscribe! I would love to win this book! Thanks for the giveaway!

    I would love to rewrite my college years. I realize how things could have been much different and would love to get a “do-over”

    Thanks
    jeffintennessee at gmail dot com

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