Sunday, June 3, 2012

Emily Perkins’ The Forrests

I saw this book reviewed in The Financial Times http://www.ft.com/ and thought it sounded really interesting.
 Review by Julian Flanagan; "In The Forrests, the New Zealand writer tackles a family’s progress from the 1960s to the 2030s, from childhood to senility, with no shortcut date headings or framing flashbacks.It opens in 1967, with the Forrests’ move from New York to New Zealand (Auckland, Perkins’ home city). The father, Frank, has high hopes of succeeding as a theatre director. He doesn’t. His wife, Lee, works at a deli, ekes out Frank’s meagre trust fund and sells off family heirlooms to feed the children. They are, in descending age, Michael, Eve, Dorothy (Dot) and Ruth. In addition, Michael’s friend Daniel lives with the Forrests, sheltering from his broken home.After three fruitless years, Frank tries his luck in New York and Lee moves the family into a “wimmin’s commune”. The children run wild but the sexual advances of an adult communard, Rena, destabilise Michael. Frank returns sterner but luckless from New York and, unwilling to take everyday work, his authority ebbs. Michael closes into his own dope-addled world. Frank inherits a pot of Forrest family fortune and returns to America. The Forrests becomes the story of Eve, Dot and Daniel finding their way alone, scraping through careers, unremembered at school reunions. Twisting through the sisters’ lives, Daniel travels the world and returns – still magnetic and enigmatic with “the terrifying agelessness of the constant traveller”. He becomes Dot’s lover then, secretly, Eve’s, then, occasionally, Dot’s again. His bond to the family makes these relationships disturbingly close, obsessive and disruptive, like a backpacker Heathcliff wielding charm. Both sisters marry and have children but are burdened by the hope of hearing from Daniel.The story tightens on Dot, struggling as marriage, family and motherhood swirl around her. “Adulthood was like this – your voice calm, your face normal, while inside white turmoil squirted, your heart still seven, or twelve, or fifteen.” Michael reappears, obese and paranoid; Ruth too, a corporate wife. Perkins glides us through the decades, with unobtrusive nods to disco, the Walkman, the internet, today’s recession and seamlessly into a future of battling gangs and receding pensions."

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