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My Absolute Darling: A Novel Hardcover – August 29, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: There’s so much to admire in My Absolute Darling: acute emotional insight, precise and evocative writing about the natural world, and pacing worthy of an action movie. How can this possibly be a debut? But some people live up to their names, and Gabriel Tallent, whose first novel this is, writes with bravura more experienced authors can only envy. His story, which feels a little like a girl-power fairy tale come true, starts dark. Fourteen-year old Julia, called Turtle, or sometimes Kibble, lives with her paranoid, survivalist father in the wilds of Mendocino County. Their ruin of a house has boarded-up windows and “spindled wooden railings overgrown with climbing roses and poison oak.” If Turtle is that rose, then her father is the poison oak: his touch (and he touches Turtle) leads to trouble. But he’s taught his daughter to shoot and forage -- she can “decipher” the woods, even at night -- and those skills serve her well when she finally starts to free herself from his control. One of the delights of this novel is the way Tallent reveals another culture – another world, really – coexisting in Mendocino, where middle-aged women practice yoga naked and swear by “the goddess” while their sons joke about hippies reading Finnegans Wake to their peyote plants. These flashes of humor and evidence of the sometimes goofy pleasures of civilization are like beacons lighting the way to a better life for Turtle, if only she can make her way out of the woods. --Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review
"My Absolute Darling is a novel that readers will gulp down, gasping…Tallent [is a] prodigiously talented new writer.” —The Washington Post
"A searing story of abuse and damaged people, but also about resilience, strength and survival. Much recommended." —Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times
"With its unconventional heroine and unflinching portrayal of an abused girl’s fight to save herself, My Absolute Darling seems poised to become the breakout debut of the year." —The New York Times
“My Absolute Darling is Gabriel Tallent's first novel, and no less than Stephen King has called it a "masterpiece" to rank with To Kill A Mockingbird and Catch-22.” —NPR
“Our generation’s next beloved literary heroine....this is one of the most important books you'll pick up this decade.” —Harper's Bazaar
"A gripping introduction to a seriously brave little girl... My Absolute Darling is an affecting read but also an important one." —USA Today
“Impressively, this is…a novel of great beauty, filled with lush evocations of the woods.” —Wall Street Journal
"Make some time to read Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling…The sentences are beautiful, the language spare and tough." —Sam Sifton in The New York Times
“A gripping read, written in beautiful, brutal prose ... My Absolute Darling is a Great American Novel for the increasingly isolationist, fractionalised and disenchanted contemporary era.” –Financial Times
“A stunningly poetic psychological thriller.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
"There's no shortage of things to admire in My Absolute Darling —it's a devastating and powerful debut from a writer who's almost certain to have a wonderful career ahead of him." —NPR.org
“An unputdownable coming-of-age novel.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The best drop-everything debut…if you loved To Kill A Mockingbird’s Scout Finch, you’ll be into Turtle Alveston.” –Glamour
“A brilliant and haunting debut.” —People
“Lush and vivid. You’ll read it with your stomach in your shoes, rooting for [Turtle] the whole time.” —Marie Claire
“[An] engrossing read.” —InStyle
“Captures a compelling young heroine.” —Vanity Fair
“A major American debut that incorporates psychological realism of the highest order, juxtaposed with nature writing that at times is so lyrical, you might as well be reading poetry.” —The Houston Chronicle
“Stunning … contemplative and heart-wrenching.” –Los Angeles Review of Books
“Extraordinarily unsettling and ambitious…an amazing debut." —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliant and terrifying, told in expansive, wild and bold prose…Reading this book is like watching an electrical storm, both beautiful and dangerous.” —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“[A] glaring, gorgeous book… My Absolute Darling sounds primal alarms with an urgent contemporary voice.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Beautifully written and emotionally gripping… My Absolute Darling is a strange hybrid of a book, part gorgeous nature writing, part psychologically astute family drama." —Tampa Bay Times
“Explosive…There are many elements of this story we would rather not believe — all so convincingly rendered that we can’t help but believe them.” —The Boston Globe
“With its excellent prose and fast-paced plot, it is a spirited debut.” —Dallas News
“My Absolute Darling is an absolute triumph.” —The National
“Loved every minute.” —Newsday
“The year’s must-read novel...Tallent in this debut makes an old story — the drama of coming of age — feel original and full of youthful power." —The Times (London)
“An incandescent novel with an extraordinary, unforgettable heroine, both deeply contemplative and utterly thrilling.” —The Guardian
“Ferocious, heart-breaking …Tallent combines gorgeous passages about the wilderness Turtle knows well and a steady beat of dramatic tension in this smashing debut.” —BBC
“[A] gripping, vivid debut…Readers will root for Turtle as she sets out to escape and be absorbed by Tallent’s stunning descriptions of nature.” —RealSimple
“The cinematic pace of My Absolute Darling will have you physically reacting...as you barrel to the end of this incredibly redemptive, satisfying book.” —goop
"Easily one of my favorite debut novels of the past decade." —LitHub
“Gabriel Tallent showcases incredible emotional empathy and nature writing in this novel about a young woman named Turtle, who’s my new favorite character in all of fiction.” –Outside Online
“To read [My Absolute Darling] is to become an evangelist for it.” —The Millions
"Philosophical but without pretense, the novel proves a fascinating examination of personal strength… by allowing Turtle to define her own reality.” —Paste
"Cathartic and spine-tingling as hell." —Vox
"Turtle is the strong, resilient heroine we didn’t know we needed, and you’ll fall head over heels in love with My Absolute Darling.” —HelloGiggles
“A fearless adventure tale that's as savvy about internal emotional storms as it is about wrangling with family and nature… A powerful, well-turned story about abuse, its consequences, and what it takes to survive it.” —Kirkus, starred review
“Lucidly written, both heartbreaking and heartfelt, this book is ultimately affirmative without the slightest sentimentality, and it’s remarkable.” –Library Journal, starred review
“Remarkable not only for its characterization but also for its minute examination of the natural world that Turtle inhabits. So vivid is the gorgeously realized setting that it becomes itself a major character in a novel that lingers in the mind long after the final page.” –Booklist, starred review
“Emotionally fraught… Turtle’s story is harrowingly visceral.” —Publishers Weekly
"There are books we like well enough to recommend, but there are a very few... that we remember forever. To my own shortlist I can now add My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent...This book is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and uplifting." —Stephen King
“Every scene in this astonishing novel packs so much tension, so much insight, such beautiful prose and such masterful handling of detail, I simply could not stop reading.” —Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment
Top customer reviews
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Turtle was abused by her father for years and this book is filled with sadistic violence. The writing kept me reading until the end but the story was excruciating. This book is so violent that I had to put off writing anything about it for a long time.
But the writing is so stunning and nuanced that I can't rate this anything less than five stars. Be warned that it is probably the goriest and sadistic novel you will ever read. Turtle lives with her psychotic father Martin in the wilds of Northern California. They live on the fringes of society, barely scraping out an existence. Turtle attends school but hates it with all her heart. Matin is obsessed with guns, survival and his daughter. It is not a pretty picture.
“What goes on in that little head of yours?” He turns her head this way and that, looking into her intently. Finally, he says, “Do you know this, kibble? Do you know what you mean to me? You save my life every morning that you get up and out of bed. I hear your little footsteps padding down your stairwell and I think, that’s my girl, that’s what I’m living for.”
This is a tragic story of abuse and violence yet so gorgeous in its description of the world around Turtle that I had to finish this until the end. The author's writing is unflinching and brave but so brutal that the story was often hard to read. Still, I have recommended this book to everyone. The descriptions of the plant life and geography of Northern California were simply breathtaking. A stunning debut novel.
Turtle and her father, Martin; the young Ceyenne; and neighbors, teachers, and children in the novel's community of Mendocino, CA are unique, different, strange, almost other wordly and hard-to-believe. This is a work of fiction, however the characters and plot feel real and believable, in spite of the novel's tumultuous plot, as a result of Gabriel Tallent's talent (no pun intended) in engrossing the reader in the mind of the teenage protagonist, Turtle, and the small world that she occupies.
Without divulging significant plot points, Turtle is - as her name suggests - like her namesake's self-sufficient and solitary animal, carrying a metaphorical shell that protects her from various evils, namely her father, a survivalist, a prepper, and narcissistic sociopath, who has raised her since she was a young girl, after her mother's death. Turtle is her father's son, acting, talking, and behaving in ways that mirror his actions, movements, and perspectives. She is his possession - his "absolute darling" - and likewise he is hers. Jealousy and envy runs both ways with this father-daughter pair. "Complicated" is too simplistic of a word to describe their relationship; which in turn makes their actions, reactions, and inner thoughts about one another - and others - all the more fascinating and intriguing, bewildering and ultimately shocking.
To prepare yourself in reading this book, several suggestions.
One, suspend much of your belief and understanding of traditional relationships, between father-daughter, teenager-to-teenager, student-to-teacher, etc. The community in which these characters live is unlike any I've read about, and to compare their behaviors and attitudes to others from other novels will present frustrations to the reader. Imagine that these characters live on an island, and they exist within and around only themselves, and no one else from outside of the community enters.
Two, don't be too quick to judge the characters for their actions, words, or worldviews. Like most great books, Tallent gently unfolds the characters' motives and beliefs. When the novel finally reaches its breaking point, the reader is fully aware and is prepared for what ultimately occurs to settle the differences between the characters. It is explosive but believable; warranted and desired.
Three, after reading the book, I felt that I could have possibly prepared myself better before reading it. After the first chapter, Tallent provides you with every indication of how the rest of the novel is going to proceed.The tone and pace is set early on. Perhaps take a brief break after that first chapter, read up on survivalist tendencies and mentalities, the prepper movement, and guns - lots of guns; I spent a decent amount of time googling various weaponry!
It's hard to believe this is Tallent's first book. His language, writing skills, far surpass other writers who have been at it for a while. At times, his descriptions can become too much, too overwhelming and exhausting, especially as he describes the various flora and fauna, and other elements of Mother Nature that in itself is like another character in the novel. There are many types of trees, plants, insects, animals, and creatures that are part of the novel's world. Again, it's no surprise that he names his main character Turtle, as she is closely connected and intertwined with her natural, environmental surroundings. She is a survivor, and finds the necessary will to defend herself, and ultimately others.
My Absolute Darling is poignant and moving, difficult to read at most times. It's a coming-of-age-story but also a survival story: how one young teenager is able to come to terms with her identity and seeks and gets redemption for having simply lived and survived. In the end, Tallent demonstrates that despite hardship unimaginable to nearly every one of the book's readers, we can overcome our prejudices and nurtured belief systems and world views.
Most recent customer reviews
What great writing! I was captivated all the way through.... At times I had to go back and re read a few paragraphs, not being able to believe what I was reading!Read more
The writing was superb! Real talent here!