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Editorial Reviews Review

Carolyn Parkhurst on The Nobodies Album

Before I’d ever written a novel, I imagined that authors must be able to point to two dates on the calendar and say, "Here’s when I began writing this book, and here’s when I finished it." I knew that the middle part--everything in between the moment when you sit down with a blank page and the moment when you type "The End"--was going to be murky. But I figured that this much, at least--the calculation of how long you spent working on it--would be clear.

As it turns out, I was wrong. The layering of questions and images and half-phrases that eventually coalesces into the seed of a novel is subtle and complicated and begins before you commit to a single word. And, as I probably should have known, the work doesn’t end the day you turn the manuscript over to your editor. The day of publication, at least, serves as a convenient endpoint. Finally, the author can say, "Okay. I’ve done all I can. Time to move on." At least, that’s what I always thought.

Then I heard a story about an author who had made the decision to revise a short story she’d written more than thirty years earlier. The story had been published, anthologized, taught in university classes... and she’d decided it wasn’t finished, after all. Honestly, I found the idea unsettling. I was a little annoyed with the writer in question for opening a door that I had assumed to be closed.

But like it or not, the idea stayed with me. Soon I had a premise--what would happen if a writer decided to change the endings to every one of her books?--and in that premise, there was a character whose desires and motivations were opaque enough that I wanted to figure them out. I was already thinking about the novels this author might have written, and how I would construct their last chapters: An epidemic which wipes out people’s memories, but only the bad ones. A survivor of the Titanic finds himself haunted by strange images appearing in the cartoons he draws. A ghost-mother wages a custody battle between the living and the dead. I was already wondering: Why is she doing this? Does she think she can rewrite her past? Or is she hoping to create a new ending for her own future?

I began writing The Nobodies Album the day I heard that news story. Or else it was the day I saw the first sentence in my head and typed the words onto a page: There are some stories no one wants to hear. Or maybe the day when I realized that there was going to be a murder to solve. I can’t really say.

As for when I’ll be finished with the story? It remains to be seen. --Carolyn Parkhurst

(Photo © Marion Ettlinger)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel) returns with the story of Octavia Frost: widow, successful novelist, and estranged mother of Milo, lead singer of an up-and-coming band. Milo and Octavia haven't spoken in almost four years, but their separation ends when Octavia learns (from the Times Square news crawl) that Milo has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. In short order, Octavia travels to the West Coast, determined to find out who really killed Bettina Moffett. Octavia's quest is peppered with short excerpts from her novels—in original and revised form—though the bits and scraps sometimes come off as filler instead of metafictional excursions into stories Octavia revises for publication and for her own purposes. (Not insignificantly, Milo's band is called Pareidolia, after the human compulsion to see, for instance, the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast.) Parkhurst's voice sucks the reader in immediately—the gift of a real storyteller—but the mixed genre structure will turn off as many readers as it works for, and the mystery plot is thinner than it should be.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; First Edition edition (June 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767930584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767930581
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Del Sesto on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There's a lot going on in this book.

The framework that sort of houses the multi-layered story is somewhat of a murder mystery. It's not the strongest part of the story (in my opinion) but definitely works to house the rest of the story: What's most important ... the relating and the relationships.

Olivia Frost, a fairly successful author, has decided that her 8th novel should be new endings for her previous seven books. She's estranged from her rock-star son, until he's accused of murder, and they have tragedy in their family history. The details of their past, and snippets of each of the "alternate endings" are woven throughout the book.

Reading the "endings" was like having short stories in the midst of a novel, and though I hated being jarred out of the main story, I really enjoyed those parts and as with most short stories, they were over just as I was wishing there was more.

Parkhurst does grief and family dynamics so well. There are scenes between the mother and son that are so relatable to me, I felt she could have plucked them right out of my own dialog. There's darkness and sadness, and a little bit of humor.

The writing is great, and as with Parkhurst's previous novels, she really creates atmosphere and emotion. It's a really fast-paced read.

I enjoyed it immensely, and will now begin the wait for Parkhurt's next, and hoping it won't be a terribly long wait.
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Format: Hardcover
Carolyn Parkhurst's "The Nobodies Album" is, on the surface, a fairly routine murder mystery. But describing it as such is to shortchange the complexities of this unique, uncompromising, and pretty wonderful novel. In addition to the central mystery, Parkhurst delivers one of the most searing and unflinching looks at familial alienation one is likely to encounter. Layered into an unconventional literary narrative, "The Nobodies Album" confronts how people cope with tragedy and how they can come to terms with and struggle to change the existence they've fallen into. Meaningful and emotionally satisfying, I ended up feeling that the central plot device (the murder itself and its resolution) to be the least compelling thing about the book.

Centered around a famous novelist Octavia Frost, "The Nobodies Album" explores her troubled relationship with her son Milo. When Milo, a renowned alt-rocker in San Francisco, discovers his fiancée brutally murdered after a night in which he has blacked out--he finds himself the prime suspect in the international media circus that follows. Having been estranged from Milo for many years, Octavia sees this as a chance for reconnection and redemption. The two share a difficult past, their relationship never having fully recovered from the accidental death of Octavia's husband and daughter. And it is the tentative progress of their bond that propels the heart of Parkhurst's story.

The grand success of "The Nobodies Album" rests on the character of Octavia Frost. Maddening and emotionally distant, it is her struggle to try to put the past into a meaningful context that drives the narrative. In alternate chapters, we are treated to various excerpts from her past novels in addition to their newly revised endings.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne Kern on July 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have referred to the murder mystery as the central plot point and thus what the book is about. It isn't. The mystery is secondary, and the genius of this book is Parkhurst's ability to once again give us a wealth of characters, each of whom she makes mulit-faceted for the readers. Central is the writer, of course, and we discover her as layers and layers peel away. She, like all Parkhurst's characters is deliciously complex. The novels she has "written" and the reasons she wants to revisit them and the ways they relate to what we are learning about her life--Pure Delight.

Character development, quirky and original plots, and simply beautiful writing are the prizes waiting for readers of Parkhurst.

I adore all three of Parkhurst's books, and I recommend them with virtual applause.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S.E.E. on January 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had a hard time with this novel, although I see I am in the clear minority on this. This is a novel about a novelist (Octavia Frost) who is re-writing the endings to her earlier works. But before Ms. Frost can deliver her re-done endings to her publisher, she learns that her rock star son (Milo) has been arrested for murder. So, Ms. Frost heads to California where Milo is holed up in a mansion belonging to an even more famous rock star. The main story line gets interrupted with publisher's summaries of Ms. Frost's work, followed by original endings, followed by re-written endings. Each of five revised novels (My Only Sunshine, Carpathia, Sanguine, Rule of the Chalice, Crybaby Bridge) has its own set of characters and keeping storylines and characters straights becomes somewhat unwieldy. Of the five re-finished novels, only Crybaby Bridge seems to have any relevance to the main storyline. Although I can appreciate Parkhurst's creativity, I'm still puzzled about what the other four stories contributed to the overarching narrative.

The overarching narrative, when you get back to it again and again, is a story of estrangement, misunderstanding, reconciliation and forgiveness. But it is also a super-hokey mystery with pretty flimsy coincidences and silly clues. A sugar bowl that contains a hand-written note that states "Someone is lying." Ms. Frost's high school friend who just happens to be a friend of the murdered victim's mother and just happens to sneak Ms. Frost inside. A cemetery that can't be located until it is. Bumbling idiot police detectives. On the one hand, there is a lot of authentic self-examination of motherhood on the part of Ms. Frost's character. And undoubtedly, Carolyn Parkhurst is a great writer. But for me, the frequent (and lengthy) interruptions of the re-written novels and the Scooby-doo-esque mystery diminished from the novel as a whole.
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