A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Friday, August 21, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent- Feature and Review


Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle's escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.



  My Absolute DarlingMy Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent is a 2017 Riverhead Books publication.

Very dark and disturbing, but one of the most noteworthy novels I have read this year!

Despite some very stellar reviews, I waffled back and forth, unable to decide if really wanted to tackle this one, but thanks to my GR friend, Jennifer Masterson’s review, I took the plunge.

I knew going in this story was controversial and perhaps not for everyone. Yet, I still was not emotionally prepared for the intensity of the novel and the almost unbearable passages I had to endure. It is one of those stories I had to read in small doses, but one I couldn’t put down for too long.

For those who have read ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ you can’t help but notice some similarities and maybe to some extent, ‘The Seven Lives of Samuel Hawley’, but while each of those novels were remarkable in their own right, this novel takes those concepts into an entirely new realm.

On the surface, Turtle’s upbringing may seem merely unorthodox, to some. She attends school, but often runs wild. Her father, a hardcore survivalist, is inconsistent about his daughter's education, but is absolutely rigid about the lessons in survival he tutors her in.

But, if anyone is looking close enough, they will see much more going on. Once the reader is allowed to witness the training Turtle's father puts such a premium on, the sense of dread doesn’t slowly creep up on you, it hits you right between the eyes. It's immediate, violent, extreme, and relentless.

But, while Turtle is aware enough on some level that she is different from the other students in school, and she dutifully covers up her bizarre upbringing.

‘Turtle wonders if there are things that she is blind to that other people see, and what those things might be.’

She accepts the confines of her life, copes with her father as best she can, convinced he loves her, until she meets Jacob, purely by chance. The development of this friendship, opens up an entirely new world for Turtle, allowing her a glimpse inside a more normal atmosphere, which makes her yearn for something different, something more, something better for herself.

Against insurmountable odds, Turtle fights not only a physically bruising battle, but an internal battle against many psychological angles. It’s exhausting, but her resilience is awe inspiring.

‘Her moments of happiness occur right at the margin of unbearable. She knows it will not last and she thinks, you can never forget, Turtle, what is like, here, without him. You have to hold tight on to it, how good it is.’

This writing is raw, uncompromising and stark, with a minimalistic approach to dialogue, and what dialogue there is, is often filled to capacity with harsh language. The author defers to or relies on descriptive scenery, or scenes of action, allowing peaceful, but heavy silences to dwell in places, as we catch our breaths. Turtle has a long road ahead, her isolation and severe abuse stunting her ability to articulate her emotions in a more profound manner.

Turtle struggles mightily with the truth, her inner turmoil nearly as painful as the many other abuses she endures.

‘Nothing is as difficult as sustained and unremitting contact with your own mind.’

But, the underlying and overriding themes and ultimate relief, albeit not perfect, with some demons left to fight and work to be done, is still worth every ounce of agonizing pain I suffered.

*Be aware this book could prompt triggers for some readers.

Pulling out all the stars for this one-





Gabriel Tallent was born in New Mexico and grew up in Mendocino, California with two mothers. received his BA from Willamette University in 2010. After graduation he spent time leading youth trail crews through the backcountry of of the Pacific Northwest. Gabriel enjoys blackpacking and rock climbing. His stories have been published in Narrative and in the St Petersburg Review. His debut novel, My Absolute Darling, was published in August 2017 by Riverhead Books.

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