Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Forrests by Emily Perkins

The ForrestsThe Forrests by Emily Perkins

Publisher summary:
For fans of Zoë Heller and Zadie Smith, a vibrant and vital novel about the way family—with its dysfunctional bonds, sibling love, and rivalry—enduringly defines us.
Dorothy Forrest is immersed in the sensory world around her; she lives in the flickering moment. From the age of seven, when her odd, disenfranchised family moves from New York to the wide skies of New Zealand, to the very end of her life, this is her great gift and possible misfortune.
From the wilderness of a commune to falling in love to early marriage and motherhood, from the glorious anguish of parenting to the loss of everything worked for and the unexpected return oflove, Dorothy is swept along by time. Her family looms and recedes, revelations come to light, death changes everything, but somehow life remains as potent as it ever was, and the joy in just being won’t let her go.
In a narrative that shifts and moves, singing with color and memory, growing as wild as its characters, The Forrests speaks to the unexpected ways in which life can change—“if you’re lucky enough to be around for it.”
I first heard about this book in Publishers Weekly's Fiction Review, so when I was given the opportunity to be a participant in a virtual book tour for it, I jumped at the chance.

This is pitched as a dysfunctional family book, and that isn't wrong exactly, but I think it takes more of an explanation. The story is told in vignettes and I think I was probably 1/3 of the way in before I had a clear grasp of the characters. Even then, I am not sure I ever completely grasped what was motivating Daniel, Lee, or even Dorothy most of the time. The children (the Forrests) would slip in and out of stories at such rapid frequency that it was difficult to keep track or really understand them as characters. The parents are practically nonexistent, and the children don't really do a good job at making their own way, crisscrossing between countries and continents. Family at one point is referred to as a "thrashing octopus," and I think the events and struggles are very reflective of this idea.

My favorite story, "Out There" (chapter 5), chronicles when Daniel and Evelyn are briefly living together at a ski resort. It was beautifully told - painful, with tiny details that become important, and finishes unresolved. I wish more of the book had been so effective.

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