The Nobodies Albumby Published 15 Jun 2010
|The Nobodies Album.pdf|
From the bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel comes a dazzling literary mystery about the lengths to which some people will go to rewrite their past.
Bestselling novelist Octavia Frost has just completed her latest book, a revolutionary novel in which she has rewritten the last chapters of all her previous books, removing clues about her personal life concealed within, especially a horrific tragedy that befell her family years ago.
On her way to deliver the manuscript to her editor, Octavia reads a news crawl in Times Square and learns that her rock-star son, Milo, has been arrested for murder. Though she and Milo haven’t spoken in years, an estrangement stemming from that tragic day, she drops everything to go to him.
The “last chapters” of Octavia’s novel are layered throughout The Nobodies Album, the scattered puzzle pieces to her and Milo’s dark and troubled past. Did she drive her son to murder? Did Milo murder anyone at all? And what exactly happened all those years ago? As the novel builds to a stunning reveal, Octavia must consider how this story will come to a close.
Universally praised for her candid explorations of the human psyche, Parkhurst delivers an emotionally gripping and resonant mystery about a mother and her son, and about the possibility that one can never truly know another person.
The Nobodies Album Reviews
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.
I'm not sure what to do with this book. There were aspects I really liked but didn't like in the context of this story. I was bored throughout a good portion of the tale. Author Mommy playing detective pissed me off and the resolution to whodunnit would have made me throw this book across the room had it been a physical object. Ok, that's not quite true, I just sighed and rolled my eyes when the case was solved and was all, "Really?" [spoilers removed]
I do like the idea of an author rewriting the endings to all her books and publishing the collection in a volume. I like the idea of moving through a tragedy and benchmarking points of healing with new endings to, essentially, a bunch of best-selling counseling sessions (the novels). Actually, I found that I really wanted to read all the excerpted books. They sounded interesting. However, as a plot device, they were heavy handed. It was almost painful to hear at which stage of grief the author was in when she wrote each novel and how the revised endings showed her healthy healing. While it all served to frame the woman for us, psychologically, each time a novel popped up, I was thrown out of the main story in a jarring fashion. I'm not sure it really helped me appreciate...why can't I remember her name? Olivia! The author's name is Olivia. [spoilers removed] I think had Olivia not been trying to solve a murder case, had she not been so... Ok. Hold up. I need to take a moment to discuss Olivia. She's narrating the tale so you're thrown in with her immediately. She's both self-involved and a bit batty but also amazingly self-aware. I guess a lot of writers are like this, always in their heads because that's where their stories are but somehow very understanding of who they truly are despite the veneer of crazy they seem to adopt. It was frustrating to go along with her being all flippy and silly but then to have her check herself and bring reality back to the table. It was a little rollercoastery and while it was often amusing, it was also often grating. Back to the review: Had Olivia not been so cartoonish throughout the story, had she been less nutty comic amateur sleuth, the insights to her emotional state via her novels may have worked better but the novels seemed more literary and the story seemed more Sue Grafton-lite. I didn't feel like they meshed well.
Seriously, though, I would totally love to read Cry Baby Bridge and all her others, just not in the body of this particular novel.
Carolyn Parkhurst makes me want to write novels. "The Dogs of Babel," one of my favorite books, reads like it was written effortlessly.
The skill involved in crafting "The Nobodies Album" is a little more apparent. The premise is that best-selling author Octavia Frost has decided to rewrite the endings of each of her books. The original and revised endings are woven throughout the book, as Octavia reconnects with her estranged son, a rock star, who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend.
My only criticism of "The Nobodies Album," is that the original endings don't read to me like actual book endings. There's a lot of recap to give readers the sense that they've read the entire book. I'm willing to forgive that, however, because for the most part, I found the excerpts from her fictional books as engaging as the plot of the "real" novel.
I didn't care for the excerpts from the first two novels Octavia rewrites, and worried that as I got to these dramatic interludes that I'd get tired of the formula and want to skim through them. But that wasn't the case. Within "The Nobodies Album," Parkhurst has developed four or five other multi-layered, revelatory novels that enhance Octavia's story.
The murder mystery itself is not exactly Hitchcockian, but "The Nobodies Album" is more of a family drama than it is a mystery novel. It's suspenseful and affecting. I loved it.
Like the best novels, I found it difficult to put down, and was sorry when it ended.
I received an advance copy of this book free through a giveaway here on GoodReads. Doubleday took an interesting marketing tact here; I was told when I won that, although I'm not required to write a review of the book, that that was kind of the idea and they hoped I'd review it. Sadly, I'm not sure they'll like the review I have to write about this one.
First, though, I want to say that I really like Parkhurst's work. I thought The Dogs of Babel was a wonderful book, and Lost and Found was a fun adventure. However, The Nobodies Album doesn't come close to equalling Parkhurst's earlier work. There are bits and pieces that are lovely, but overall the book was disappointing.
The protagonist, Octavia Frost, is a novelist whose estranged son Milo, a rock star, is suspected of murder. The book explores the murder mystery as well as Octavia's relationship with Milo and the past events that caused Milo to exclude her from his life. Interspersed with the main narrative are excerpts from Octavia's latest book project: she sets out to rewrite the endings to each of her previous novels, giving a new twist to the work she'd published before. We see a jacket copy description of each book, the last chapter as it was originally published, and a new rewritten ending.
The problem with this conceit is that, unfortunately, it really doesn't work here. The "chapters" are nothing like what an actual last chapter of a novel would be--they read more like the second half of a short story. There's a lot of summing up of key plot points, as if the characters knew that they would be represented only by this one chapter, and events mentioned on the "jacket copy" description happen in this last chapter, which would never be the case in an actual book. Plus the chapters were not very interesting--I wouldn't want to read the books that they were concluding. If Octavia Frost were a real writer, I can't imagine how she'd have published anything at all, let alone this stuff. I also couldn't see how most of this was really applicable to the main story: Octavia's relationship with her son. The chapter from the book that drove them apart, yes, but the rest of it? Not so much. I also didn't really know why Octavia made the changes she did--in some cases, she gave her characters a gentler, kinder ending, but in other cases she whipped out something completely devastating. I didn't really see how these chapters and these revised endings showed us a change in Octavia's character.
Italo Calvino did something similar in If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, except he did it well. Calvino interspersed the first chapters from several imaginary novels throughout his book. Each of these first chapters completely drew me in--the writing was wonderful and each story was compelling--I would have read every single book he writes the first chapter of! These first chapters are also integral to the story that Calvino tells throughout the book. It's an amazing novel. Granted, first chapters are better for this sort of thing than last chapters, since first chapters are intended to draw you in, and last chapters by necessity rely on the emotions you've built up over reading the book to that point, which in this case I didn't have since I hadn't read Octavia's "books". Understanding this, though, doesn't really endear Parkhurst to me--it just makes me wonder why she set herself up like that. Having read Calvino, Parkhurst's book seems like a sad imitation and, really, a failure at what she intended to do.
And that's terrible, because there's a lot of good stuff in this book. Octavia as a character is kind of a Debbie Downer with no sense of humor, but by the end, I was rooting for her to reconcile with Milo--that took some good writing. There were some beautiful passages throughout the book, and I thought the last chapter--the actual last chapter--was very lovely; the ending actually turned me around and kept me from writing a completely scathing review. The story about Octavia and her son didn't need all that filler of those extra chapters, is what I'm saying here. It's a strong enough story to stand on its own.
If I'd picked this book up and not been familiar with the author, I wouldn't have found it to be such a disappointment. However, as a fan of Parkhurst's previous work, particularly The Dogs of Babel, I feel really, really let down. She is capable of so much better than this. I cried at the end of Dogs of Babel. With The Nobodies Album I was just glad to be done.
I saw Richard III, a play when I was 21 years old. I was in London at the time with my sister. With all the Shakespeare talk along with the British accents, I understood very little of it. In fact, I only remember the scattering of the white and red rose petals at the end. Something about the war of the roses. I was bored throughout. I left the theater yawning. Another girl from our group was deeply affected and and kept talking about the beautiful symbolism.
Phht! Symbolism. Boring.
I saw Richard III again when I was well into my thirties. I couldn't believe how much I had missed the first time.
Back to the book, The Nobodies Album. It takes a certain amount of experience, wisdom, and tragedy to interpret events in a certain way. It takes experience, wisdom, and tragedy for texture to be added to our own lives and meaning to take shape. It takes even more experience, wisdom, and tragedy to accept that endings are what they are based on our choices due to our experiences and how we have interpreted them.
In other words, our lives are one big Rorschach test.
Carolyn Parkhurst offered me a rare glimpse into a brilliant writer's brain. There is constant dialogue, testing, questioning, interpreting and answering. Sometimes the answers were painfully difficult to swallow as they hit so close to home. It is so far from my John Dorian (Scrubs) dialogue I constantly have going inside my head. I'm trying to connect humor. Octavia, the protagonist, is constantly trying to create meaning. The truth is, we are all creatures seeking patterns and predictability.
Octavia is rewriting the ending of all 7 of her published novels. As she narrates her current experience, dropping back to her past to provide a point of reference, it is clear that her stories, as any story, could take many different directions. The last chapter of each novel is intertwined within the book.
Yet I can't help falling back on my desire to create meaning (based on my own experiences) and question if Octavia, with her name taking on the root of the number 8, is symbolic of her 8th novel, the one not published.
Or perhaps it is Pareidolia.
I was going for witty, but I'm afraid I ended up with merely odd. Well, I never said I was good with words. Not ones spoken out loud, anyway.
- Octavia Frost