Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nobodies Album

Carolyn Parkhurst's The Nobodies Album, reviewed in the NYT Review of Books:  is not really a mystery.Well, actually, it is about a murder that gets solved during the course of the story. So it is a mystery? A crime novel? There is a crime after all. Carolyn Parkhurst ( is a gifted writer. Her previous novel, The Dogs of Babel, is about communication with dogs and also is about a death that may be a murder.   

Octavia Frost, a best-selling novelist and estranged mother of a rockstar, Milo, is planning to re-write the ends of some of her novels and publish the new endings. The story is told in first person perspective by Octavia,  who is cold and distant and just not too likable. Note that Octavia has her own website: and even a blog. Excerpts from her novels and their new endings are included. Her novels are rather funny and since seem to have been pretty bad. Germs of her sad, lonely autobiography as it unfolds are part of these stories. Can you re-write the end of a novel once it is published? Does that destroy the relationship that readers have with a novel?  I can only imagine Anna Karenina having second thoughts or Holden Caulfield deciding to improve his attitude. Anyway, How much of a writer's life is reflected in her writing? How much is therapy and how much is petty self-justification? It is an intriguingly post-modern idea in a time when fans are given the opportunity to pick their own endings - when a novel and its ending could be  evolving, flawed, and temporary and not the final perfect creation the reader in their passive way comes to rely on. What are novels anyway? However, in this case, it doesn't seem so important.

Octavia's son, Milo, is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend and Octavia, to whom Milo has not spoken for 4 years (although she has followed his career in the distant, stalker-like way that social networks and youtube allow), tries to overcome his antipathy toward her,  and helps him with pretty unpredictable results. I am intrigued by the incompetent (or is she?) self-serving narrator and I really enjoyed the dialogue, the characters - particularly Octavia - the others are a little thin, and the novels within the novel. The rock world seems a little incomplete; Parkhurst clearly knows more about the creative acts that result in novel-writing than in rock songs. The older rock star that Milo befriends - a sort of Jimmy Page or Steve Tyler type -  is a pretty weak character but overall it was a fun read that seemed to have a lot going on.


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