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
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.
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--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.