Review: The Nobodies Album, Carolyn Parkhurst

Author Octavia Frost has come up with the idea of rewriting the endings to each of her previous seven novels, and to put all the revised endings together as a brand new book, called The Nobodies Album. As she is traveling to deliver the manuscript to her agent, she sees a news item saying that her estranged son, Milo, has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend Bettina. Octavia and Milo (who is a rock star) have not spoken in four years, for reasons that are not immediately made clear; but when she sees that her son is in trouble, she drops everything and travels across the country to help.

Almost exactly what I wanted! I read The Nobodies Album because Kim mentioned that it was good, and I fancied a mystery that I wouldn’t be able to put down. The Nobodies Album had a lot of things going for it: The whodunit aspect of the mystery was, in a way, an afterthought; it made the rest of the plot happen but it wasn’t (for me) what created the suspense. The suspenseful stuff was the family secrets, what the Frost family’s tragedy had been all those years ago, and why Octavia and Milo fell out of contact with each other. Again, for me, because the kind of suspense I enjoy is emotional suspense.

Pankhurst is good at keeping this sort of secret without its feeling like a cheat that we haven’t found it out yet. Octavia knows what’s happened, and she doesn’t feel the need to describe it because she knows already!, as do all the other characters!, so she only hints at it obliquely over the course of the book. Interspersed with the main plot are excerpts from Octavia’s book: Jacket copy for each, then the last chapter, then the revised ending she has since written. Each of these adds layers and emotional weight to the nature of Octavia’s loss and grief, so that the reveals, when they happen, feel totally earned. Furthermore, I love it when books include “documents” from the characters’ lives to supplement the main narration. I wish that could happen more frequently.

I would have liked, though, to see a slightly meatier story. The Nobodies Album isn’t a long book, and when you account for the segments taken up by excerpts from Octavia’s novels, the main plotline is almost a novella. And really, not much happens. Octavia goes out to California, she has a few conversations with the people in her son’s life, there’s a funeral for Bettina, more chat, and then they figure out who did the murder and how and why. I can’t say exactly what else I’d have liked to see happen, but something! Something to make the primary plotline of the book feel less slight.

Thanks, Kim, for the recommendation! I really enjoyed it!

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