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After the Parade: A Novel Paperback – July 26, 2016
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"Lori Ostlund's wonderful novel After the Parade should come with a set of instructions: Be perfectly still. Listen carefully. Peer beneath every placid surface. Be alive to the possibility of wonder." (Richard Russo, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of Empire Falls)
"A beautiful, elegant, honest, and compassionate book about trauma--and the difficult process through which we come to make sense of our lives." (Hanya Yanighara, bestselling author of A Little Life)
“[A] powerful debut novel…After the Parade provides considerable pleasure and emotional power. The teaching scenes, in which Aaron’s adult students ponder the mysteries of American English expressions and American customs, are warm, lively and engrossing. Ostlund richly evokes the rural Minnesota of Aaron’s childhood, where fine distinctions are made between Norwegians, Swedes and Finns; and, through Aaron, she casts a sharp eye on the generation of closeted gay men Walter and his friends belong to, men whose campiness both disguises and expresses their shame. Indeed, while we may be tempted to forget their struggles now that the Supreme Court has affirmed the right of gay men and lesbians to live with the same dignity as anybody else, After the Parade is a moving testament to those adults who contend with the damaging legacy of shame, and the nonconforming children who live in hostile families, trying to stay afloat and save their own lives.”
"A nearly perfect debut novel…Little Aaron is an imaginatively but realistically drawn child, a rarity in modern American fiction…and the book's end, with its sense of calm over closure, is perfect…Ostlund has won a passel of prizes for fiction featuring gay characters, but "After the Parade" is not "gay fiction." It is the story of an American man who must come to terms with his childhood. This sad, brilliant book is for all of us. Its Minnesota moments make it especially compelling for those of us who live here, especially if we grew up in small towns, where nothing, but everything, happened to us.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“I would recommend this book to anyone who loves character-driven fiction. It has the two things that I look for in a novel: wonderful writing and three-dimensional characters.” (Nancy Pearl KUOW)
About the Author
Lori Ostlund’s first collection of stories, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. In 2009, Lori received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award. She is the author of the novel, After the Parade and lives in San Francisco.
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Although Aaron is gay, this is not a "gay" novel any more than a story about a straight narrator is a "heterosexual" work; instead, this is a human book, a unselfconsciously wrought bridge between the two orientations, constructed by the author with the assumption that we all live on an interconnected continuum, even if some us—like Aaron—feel a little lost and unmoored.
We need more books like "After the Parade," which eschew labels and boundaries; books written for everyone rather than for a specific, narrow readership; books that challenge us to perceive more deeply, with greater depth. Aaron’s road to understanding himself, his history and relationships, is a multi-layered, complex story, yet one that is tightly woven, a moving parade worthy of applause.
I wanted to read this because Ms. Ostlund had won the Edmund White award. It is a well written but awfully sad study of the many kinds of love and loneliness and abandonment: parent/child, friends, lovers. Struck personal chords for me about needing to leave someone as a matter of saving one’s own self & soul and being manipulated by someone who confuses love with control. I was irritated because my local library does NOT have it. I ordered a bargain ($2) copy and then donated it — when I’d finished reading — to library.
Aaron Englund has been with his older partner Walter for 20 years, since Walter rescued him from a lonely existence in his small town of Morton, Minnesota. But while the two shared a strong bond, Aaron felt that Walter always controlled him, and never let him forget that he saved him. So one day, Aaron leaves their home in New Mexico and heads to San Francisco, where he hopes to start a new life and continue his career as an ESL teacher.
"Perhaps that was the nature of love: either a person was not in it enough toc are, or was in it too deeply to make anything but mistakes."
Settling into a small garage apartment in San Francisco, Aaron begins to realize that a new life isn't all it's cracked up to be. While he enjoys helping his students maneuver their way through the idiosyncrasies of the English language, he spends most of his time alone, knowing he did the right thing in his relationship with Walter yet still missing him, and feeling ever more alone and isolated, but scared and unwilling to try and make new friends.
Through flashbacks we get a better understanding of what has shaped Aaron into the man he has become. His angry, abusive father was killed in a freak accident when he was five, and his mother vacillated between smothering and distant. He never felt he was the same as his fellow classmates, and he often was the object of ridicule and/or bullying. Throughout his childhood and young adulthood he encountered a number of people whose differences were either physical and emotional, yet he felt at home with them. And then, while he was in high school, his mother left home in the middle of the night with the town's priest, and she never connected with Aaron again.
After the Parade is a moving story about feeling isolated, feeling different, and how our relationships and personalities are shaped by the things that occur in our lives. I felt for Aaron so much as I learned more about him, his likes and dislikes, and his inability to feel comfortable letting his guard down. But at times the emotional distance at which his mother kept Aaron, and Aaron keeps the world, translated into an emotional distance for me as well, so at times I was frustrated by Aaron's inability to act, to say what was on his mind, to do something that might bring a change in his life, although I understood why.
This is a story that unfolds slowly (very slowly at times), and while the flashbacks are tremendously valuable for insight into his character, I would have enjoyed spending more time with Aaron in adulthood than in childhood. But while this isn't a book I necessarily enjoyed, it was a book that moved me, and Ostlund's talent is on full display here. It's definitely a book that has me thinking.