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Q&A

Q&A with Carolyn Parkhurst, author of THE NOBODIES ALBUM

On Sunday,I heard Carolyn Parkhurst read from her book The Nobodies Album, which I also reviewed that day. Before she started her reading, she said that the book has a "challenging, complicated structure," and that she often wondered what she had gotten herself into. Parkhurst also answered a few questions after the reading. Here is the Q&A:

Q. How much of the novels-within-the-novels did you actually write?

A: I only wrote as much as you see in the book, but I needed the basic plot and what was happening in the book. I had to explain it all to the reader so that they would understand. But I didn't write any more than I had to.

Q: What do you think about authors changing the endings of their books?

A: I had once read about Joyce Carol Oates revising a thirty year-old story, and I wondered, was she allowed to do that? But ultimately, I don't really care what anybody does. Personally, I like finishing and moving on when I am done. It scares me to think that I could tinker with a book forever. I find it a weird choice to revisit an ending.

Q: Would you ever write a book from one of these seven pieces of novels?

A: Probably not, even though it would make my mother happy. I tried not to make them like short stories, but I feel like I've already said what I need to say about those characters. Maybe the themes and subject matter will come up again, though.

The Nobodies Album also got a great review in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday – check it out.

THE NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst

Parkhurst 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.

THE NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst

One of the first books I read after I started this blog in 2006 was Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst. It was a fictionalized account of a TV competition show based on "The Amazing Race". Here was my review. While I found a few faults with the book, I did enjoy it. (It's so funny to read old reviews – I was such a newbie blogger back then!)

Parkhurst Parkhurst has a new book coming out in June, and I just got a review copy in the mail, thanks to Doubleday. (Hi FTC!). It's called The Nobodies Album, and here is the blurb from the marketing department at Doubleday: "Carolyn's novel is a terrific
story about a successful writer, Octavia Frost, who learns that her son is
accused of his girlfriend's murder via (of all things) the news feed in Times
Square.  Even though they have been estranged, she travels to California to be
with him.  As they try to patch up their relationship, surprising facts about
the murder emerge."

I like the sound of this book, and I like the author. So this is going in the TBR pile! I will let you know how I like it!

LOST AND FOUND by Carolyn Parkhurst

Back in August, I blogged about Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. I just finished it. I liked it, didn’t love it. 

I am a big fan of "The Amazing Race," so I enjoyed all the background details about filming an around-the-world reality TV show.  I also liked the descriptions of the places the contestants visited and the tasks they had to complete. The best part of the book, though, is Parkhurt’s exploration of the different characters, what motivated them to come on the show, and their relationships with their partners.  The narration rotates among the characters, but the plot moves ahead steadily, thankfully with little repetition of detail or plot points.

My complaints are: 1) some characters were less well-drawn than others, which ultimately made them less compelling; 2) the gay theme (a few characters are gay – some in, some out, some in denial) is overdone – it tended to pervade the whole book; and 3) the contestants were way too cynical and unhappy for this naive TV viewer.  I watch "The Amazing Race" to escape from my own reality for an hour a week; I like to believe that the players are having fun and savoring the incredibly unique experience they’re having, regardless of whether they’re winning.  I realize that Parkhurst is satirizing the genre; I guess I didn’t need to have the genre satirized.

All of that said, Lost and Found is well-written, engaging, and entertaining. I did enjoy it and would recommend it.