The Forrests by Emily Perkins
Author: Emily Perkins
Genre: Fiction ( 1970s / 1980s / Immigration / US Ex-pats / New Zealand / Coming-of-Age / Family Saga )
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury USA (8/7/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The life of an American family living in New Zealand.
Reading Challenges: E-books, Immigrant Stories, NetGalley
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it has a very dreamy, wild mood to it that matches the novel's vibe.
I'm reminded of...: Karin Altenberg, The Virgin Suicides, Cynthia Ozick
First line: Their father balanced behind the movie camera, shouting directions as he walked backwards and forwards in front of them.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like dreamy prose and family sagas.
Why did I get this book?: Moody family saga!
Review: The novel opens in a chaotic jumble -- a staged family film -- that dissolves into mess of wiggling children, animals, snacks, arguments. It's a bit difficult at first to make heads or tails of the story as Perkins literally plunges you into the middle of the Forrest family. Quickly, though, threads emerge: Frank Forrest, an aspiring actor, wants to leave it all and hauls his family from New York to New Zealand but fails in his theatrical endeavors, so the family, stranded now, lives off his trust fund allowance, which isn't enough to bring them back to the States. Lee, his wife, drags her four children and a neighbor's boy with her to a commune, and the story blossoms from there.
The novel follows (mostly) Dot through her life -- from her eight-year old self through to her elderly self, suffering dementia -- and the story she tells is unsurprising, conventional, slow, discomforting, confusing, and bittersweet. And, for me, that's what is so lovely and sad about it.
Honestly, from the first page, this book made me uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable, but in a good way. From the first page, I was reminded of a less physically savage, feminine Mosquito Coast -- there's no man versus nature versus his own insanity struggle for survival -- but Dot and her family, caught in the whims of their parents -- struggle in their own ways. I wanted to scream at Dot's parents, Dot herself, constantly; I wanted to hug all of them. As the story follows Dot and her siblings, I was reminded of other sparse, uncomfortable coming-of-age novels: The Virgin Suicides, Lauren Groff's Arcadia,
Perkins writing style is sparse but dreamy; I didn't race through this book but I couldn't put it down. It's hard to get a feel for the characters but that distance feels intentional -- all the characters are struggling to survive, to keep on, to find some measure of happiness without losing themselves -- and it was depressing/amazing to follow them. But I was captured by this tragic, odd, damaged family -- horrified, moved, shocked, sympathetic -- and by the end ... I felt a bit gutted. (Even if the end had enough lift that I actually felt freed!)
If you like moody family sagas, this is your book. Or commune tales. Or so-uncomfortable-you-wiggle coming-of-age stories. If you want to be grateful for you own slightly less messed up childhood, pick this up. Like me, you might be seduced by the Forrests, entranced, mesmerized, and even saddened to finally leave them.
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I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of The Forrests to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 8/24.