The Forrests by Emily Perkins

Title: The Forrests
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

Rating: Liked.
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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GIVEAWAY!

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.

Comments

  1. Oooh, I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this yet! Commune stories are right up my alley - I loved Arcadia, and The Mosquito Coast is somewhere on my TBR list. Thanks for the review!

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    1. This book is totally your thing, then -- it's awesome/terrible and wonderfully disturbing!

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  2. I don't always like dreamy prose but I do love immigrant stories and family sagas so this sounds good to me. (By the way, both of the questions on the entry form say "name.")

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    1. Kathy -- thanks, I fixed the form. That's what I get for typing too quickly! There's a real groundedness to Perkins' writing so don't let 'dreamy' dissuade you!

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  3. This sounds like one that might be up my alley or even Anna's with her penchant for family sagas..though I don't think she's read one in a while.

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    1. Then you two will dig one as it's just so great -- emotional and sad and messy and fun.

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  4. I want to enter every giveaway you have! Every time you post "Mailbox Monday," I experience book envy, and normally, I don't envy anything else.

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    1. Awww, yaaay! That makes me so happy, Irene -- I'm so pleased. I mean, not about provoking envy, but by making your TBR longer. ;)

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  5. I love ex-pat stories! Plus, I'd love to be able to rec this book to my bookclub ladies when we read Arcadia in a couple of months.

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    1. I think it'd make a smashing companion/if-you-liked read for Arcadia -- it's a very different family but I think Perkins and Groff have some similarities in writing style etc.

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  6. This does stir up a lot of curiosity in me. Bleak but intense, angry and loving reactions! Sign me up for this one. I love a good twisted family drama, and would love the chance to read this one. Honestly, Audra, you write some of the best reviews out there!

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    1. The best part is that this family was so messed up but I cared about them -- I couldn't stop reading this one. Heather, you just made my whole month -- thank you!

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  7. I do enjoy moody family sagas. I'm intrigued!

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    1. This one is worth being intrigued by, too! ;)

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  8. I enjoy immigrant stories, so this one has piqued my interest!

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    1. Darlene -- and it's so unusual to read about Americans emigrating -- there's not a ton abt that in this book, but it certainly influences the story

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  9. As usual, you've posted another book on my TBR pile! I have this one here but probably won't get to it any time soon, but since you liked it, I'm sure it's one I'll be looking forward to reading.

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    1. It's a good wintry book, I'd say -- dark and moody, nice for being snowed in one weekend! Can't wait to see what you think of it!

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  10. I'm certainly intrigue by this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    1. I think you'd like it -- it has a dense, dreamy, painful feel to it -- the writing style is sharp and soft -- really wonderful.

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  11. Audra as always your review is spot on. you have an ability to articulate what i think or feel about a book. I loved this novel too.

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  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this for the tour Audra!

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  13. This books is new to me and I like how the immigration experience is from the US to another country - so much of what I read are immigrant stories with people immigrating to the US. Thanks for linking this to the Immigrant Stories Challenge.

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