The Nobodies Album

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Overview

Bestselling novelist Octavia Frost has just completed her latest book, a revolutionary novel in which she has rewritten the last chapters of all her previous books and removed clues about her personal life concealed within, especially the horrific tragedy that once befell her family.
 
But on her way to deliver the manuscript to her editor, Octavia learns that her estranged son, Milo, a famous musician, has been arrested for the murder of...
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2010 Hardcover New 0385527691. New. No remainder marks. Stated First Edition. A dazzling literary mystery about the lengths to which some people will go to rewrite their past. ... Professional service from a Main Street bookstore.; 9.10 X 6.40 X 1.20 inches; 320 pages. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Bestselling novelist Octavia Frost has just completed her latest book, a revolutionary novel in which she has rewritten the last chapters of all her previous books and removed clues about her personal life concealed within, especially the horrific tragedy that once befell her family.
 
But on her way to deliver the manuscript to her editor, Octavia learns that her estranged son, Milo, a famous musician, has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. Did she drive her son to violence? Did Milo murder anyone at all? And what exactly happened all those years ago? As the novel builds to a stunning reveal, Octavia must consider how this story will come to a close.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel) returns with the story of Octavia Frost: widow, successful novelist, and estranged mother of Milo, lead singer of an up-and-coming band. Milo and Octavia haven't spoken in almost four years, but their separation ends when Octavia learns (from the Times Square news crawl) that Milo has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. In short order, Octavia travels to the West Coast, determined to find out who really killed Bettina Moffett. Octavia's quest is peppered with short excerpts from her novels—in original and revised form—though the bits and scraps sometimes come off as filler instead of metafictional excursions into stories Octavia revises for publication and for her own purposes. (Not insignificantly, Milo's band is called Pareidolia, after the human compulsion to see, for instance, the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast.) Parkhurst's voice sucks the reader in immediately—the gift of a real storyteller—but the mixed genre structure will turn off as many readers as it works for, and the mystery plot is thinner than it should be. (June)
Art Taylor
A number of ambitious and winning novels have been written about novelists themselves, from Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin to Ian McEwan's Atonement and Carol Shields's Unless. Add to the list now D.C. author Carolyn Parkhurst's The Nobodies Album. Not just a book about a novelist in action, it's also a meditation on writing itself and on the curious intersections between the imagined world and the real one.
—The Washington Post
Liesl Schillinger
In The Nobodies Album, with a light but sure hand, Carolyn Parkhurst joins together four disparate literary forms: the family drama, the short story, the philosophical essay on language and, yes, the whodunit. Her weave is smooth, a vigorous hybrid of the old-fashioned, the modern and the postmodern. She reminds us what an act of will and imagination it has always taken for a writer to convert nobodies into somebodies in any genre, whether at the desk or in the world.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher

 
“An ingenious, intricately structured story. . . . This is not a conventional murder mystery.” —The Boston Globe

“[An] affecting, intricate novel.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A pinhole glimpse into the mind of a fascinating woman for whom life and fiction are stitched tightly together.” —Entertainment Weekly
 
“A fascinating, can’t-put-it-down murder mystery.” —Redbook
 
“Parkhurst is wildly gifted at depicting mother-and-child moments, and they lift her entertaining new book above the fray.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“Ambitious and winning. . . . Brisk and engaging.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A mystery, and so much more. . . . Finely crafted.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“All [The Nobodies Album’s] pieces—the recurring patterns, mirror images and multiple allusions of Octavia’s history and fantasies—seem to shake together like a kaleidoscope, settling into place in a satisfying manner both predicted and unexpected.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“The great pleasure of reading The Nobodies Album arises out of keeping track of the constantly shifting relationships among a small group of paranoid people quarantined from the rest of society by their fame. . . . Parkhurst, who clearly revels in language (Milo’s band is called ‘Pareidolia’), gets maximum mileage out of her cast of novelists and rock star poets.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR 
 
“As she did in The Dogs of Babel, with its human protagonist trying to coax forth information from his dog, Ms. Parkhurst once again proves that she writes with crisp precision but can also make heads spin.” —The New York Times

“Like any good mystery, Parkhurst offers us suspects without ever calling them such. . . . The Nobodies Album succeeds as a mystery, but also as a work of psychological realism. . . . [Parkhurst] is a writer of undeniable literary talent, concerned with meaning and character and all that good stuff, but she also tells one hell of a story.” —Bookslut.com  
 
“Creative and unique. . . . Elegant and gripping.” —Bookreporter.com
 
“Carolyn Parkhurst . . . [has] an innate grasp of the fatal power of words. She understands the power of language, and how one misconstrued sentence, or a confession never uttered, can be devastating.” —USA Today
 
The Nobodies Album is a family drama, psychological inquiry and literary mystery, offering something for every reader. . . . Parkhurst has an uncanny knack for truly inhabiting her characters, laying their inner workings bare, yet here she cleverly uses this introspection to question the extent to which we can ever truly know another human being, even one bound to us through blood. The Nobodies Album opens with the audacious first line, ‘There are some stories no one wants to hear,’ but when Parkhurst’s stories are the ones in question, nothing could be further from the truth.” —BookPage
 
“A mystery well worth investigating. . . . Sharp and engaging. . . . A confident novel that has plenty of narrative muscle.” —The Independent (London)
 
“All of Parkhurst’s novels fairly burst with plot, and The Nobodies Album is no exception. . . . Few authors are as adept at infusing page-turning storylines with emotional depth, both tragic and redemptive. . . . Packs its own resonating punch.” —The Onion’s A. V. Club

Library Journal
Parkhurst's (www.carolynparkhurst.com) third novel, following Lost and Found (2006), is a literary murder mystery about a best-selling author whose latest endeavor re-imagines all the final chapters of her previous books. As she delivers this new creation to her editor, she learns her estranged son has been arrested on suspicion of murder. The story alternates between her reunion with her son and both her original and revised story endings. Actress Kimberly Farr skillfully renders the protagonists and provides enough variation in the other numerous characters to give narrative clarity. Although the murder mystery aspect is only a small component of this tale, there is enough here to appeal to mystery lovers. Appreciators of experimental fiction, however, are most likely to enjoy. ["Like an indie band with crossover potential, Parkhurst's Album delivers the goods," read the review of the Doubleday hc, LJ Xpress Reviews, 6/10/10.—Ed.]—J. Sara Paulk, Wythe-Grayson Regional Lib., Independence, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385527699
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/15/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.52 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Parkhurst

Carolyn Parkhurst holds an MFA in fiction from American University. She is the author of two previous bestselling novels, The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, as well as a children’s book, Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly. She lives in Washington, D. C., with her husband and their two children.

Biography

What dog lover would not want to know exactly what her or his pet was thinking—and hear those thoughts articulated verbally? And what if it were indeed possible to teach a dog to communicate as humans do? This is the goal of the grieving widower at the heart of Carolyn Parkhurst's quirky but moving debut novel The Dogs of Babel.

Parkhurst's bold debut grew out of an inventive "history" of canine linguistics she penned while in college. This wholly fictional "research" paper provided Parkhurst with the basis of what would become The Dogs of Babel. "I think every dog owner has wondered, what is my dog thinking?" she explained to Bookpage. "What do they make of what they observe about my life? I wish it were true that we could talk and find out what they're thinking, but I don't think it's ever going to happen."

This bizarre premise was actually a means for Parkhurst to explore the themes of grief, loss, redemption, and communication that form the emotional core of The Dogs of Babel. In the novel, a linguistics professor named Paul Iverson finds his beloved wife Lexy lying dead beneath a thirty-foot apple tree in their yard. Not knowing whether Lexy slipped from the branches accidentally or willfully plummeted to her death, Paul turns to the sole witness to uncover the secret of Lexy's death. Unfortunately, this witness happens to be Loralei, his pet Rhodesian Ridgeback. Devastated, Paul abandons his job and embarks on a quest to teach his dog speech in order to discover what, exactly, happened to his wife.

The eccentricity of this premise is not lost on the author, who admits, "There's a real issue of getting readers to suspend their belief when your premise is a man who is trying to teach his dog to talk," but said, "My hope is that, as you learn more about Paul and what he's like, it's believable that he might follow this unlikely course."

Thanks to Parkhurst's skillful blend of absurdity and genuine humanity, readers not only bought her outlandish premise but enthusiastically embraced the writer as a significant new talent, Book magazine even named her as a "new writer to watch." The Dogs of Babel received raves from a string of publications including The Los Angeles Times, Esquire, People magazine, Marie Claire, and Entertainment Weekly. Furthermore, the novel helped Parkhurst come to terms with her own tragic loss. "My dog, Chelsea, who died during the time I was writing the book, was certainly an inspiration to me," she told Identity Theory.com. "I think that the experience of living with such a sweet dog is probably what made me want to write about dogs in the first place."

Carolyn Parkhurst followed up her touching smash debut with a novel that is no less insightful, but somewhat more humorous. Lost and Found explores the relationships between seven mismatched couples as they compete in the reality TV show from which the novel takes its name. The fictional show is a global scavenger hunt, and the participants find more than they bargained for as relationships become increasingly strained as the game's stakes grow higher. The book generated more positive notices for Parkhurst. Kirkus Reviews stated that Lost and Found surpasses Parkhurst's critically acclaimed debut, adding that, "Given the high-concept premise, Parkhurst has avoided the pitfall of simply engineering a joyride..." Deserved praise for sure, but what else would anyone expect from the writer of The Dogs of Babel?

Good To Know

In her interview with Barnes & Noble.com, Parkhurst shared some fun facts about herself:

"I wrote my first story, 'The Table Family,' when I was three. Actually, I dictated it to my mother. It was about a family of tables (Table was their last name), and they were upset because there was a family of leaves growing in their house, but then they all learned to live together. The story also had self-driving cars, a friendly witch, and a man who had only one eye—all the important plot elements."

"I've had three dogs in my life; their names were Fritzie, Shannon, and Chelsea. My mom and I got Chelsea when I was in college, and she's the one who chose his name, despite the fact that he was a male dog and Chelsea is largely a female name.

"A few years later, when Chelsea had come to live with me, my future husband and I tried for a short time to change his name to Doug, which we thought was more fitting (we were inspired by a 'Far Side' cartoon that shows a man standing on his front lawn next to a sign that says, ‘Beware of Doug.' We also liked the way it sounded: ‘This is my dog, Doug'). We did manage to get him to respond to the new name, but ultimately we decided to go back to the name he'd had since he was a puppy."

"I've spent a lot more time watching game shows than I care to admit. I like the excitement of them, the combination of luck and skill, and the possibility that someone could win something really great. Sad as it may sound, The Price is Right is one of the highlights of my day. Whenever my son hears the theme music, he runs to the TV and points at it with great agitation and excitement."

"I love to travel and to cook, although I haven't had much of a chance to do either one since my son was born."

"I collect masks, which is the inspiration for my character Lexy's career as a mask maker, and the first one I ever got was a Carnival mask I bought in Venice. It's a tall gold feather made of papier-mâché, with the features of a woman's face pressed into it. It's beautiful, but it's about two feet tall, and when I bought it I didn't realize I'd have to carry it through Italy for the next two weeks. I dragged it on trains and buses and planes, and I was terrified I'd damage it. The man at the store had wrapped it in paper, and I was scared to unwrap it while I was traveling, so I didn't know until I got home whether it had made the trip intact. Luckily, it was fine; now it's hanging in my living room."

"I also like to play games and do crossword puzzles. When my husband and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary, I read that the gift is supposed to be paper, so I spent about a month making a crossword puzzle for him. It's surprisingly hard to do. I filled it with clues and references that only he and I would know about, and on the morning of our anniversary, I made him sit there and fill in the whole thing."

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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 18, 1971
    2. Place of Birth:
      Manchester, New Hampshire
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Wesleyan University, 1992; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, American University, 1998
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Nobodies Album


By Carolyn Parkhurst

Doubleday

Copyright © 2010 Carolyn Parkhurst
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385527699

Chapter One
 
There are some stories no one wants to hear.  Some stories, once told, won’t let you go so easily.  I’m not talking about the tedious, the pointless, the disgusting: the bugs in your bag of flour; your hour on the phone with the insurance people; the unexplained blood in your urine.  I’m talking about narratives of tragedy and pathos so painful, so compelling, that they seem to catch inside you on a tiny hook you didn’t even know you’d hung.  You wish for a way to pull the story back out; you grow resentful of the very breath that pushed those words into the air. 

Stories like this have become a specialty of mine.  It wasn’t always that way; I used to try to write the kind of story everyone wanted to hear, but I soon learned what a fool’s errand that was.  I found out there are better ways to get you.  “I wish I hadn’t read it,” a woman wrote to me after she finished my last novel.  She sounded bewildered, and wistful for the time before she’d heard what I had to say.  But isn’t that the point—to write something that will last after the book has been put back on the shelf?  This is the way I like it.  Read my story, walk through those woods, and when you get to the other side, you may not even realize that you’re carrying something out that you didn’t have when you went in.  A little tick of an idea, clinging to your scalp, or hidden in a fold of skin.  Somewhere out of sight.  By the time you discover it, it’s already begun to prey on you; perhaps it’s merely gouged your flesh, or perhaps it’s already begun to nibble away at your central nervous system.  It’s a small thing, whatever it is, and whether your life will be better for it or worse, I cannot say.  But something’s different, something has changed.

And it’s all because of me.
 

The plane rises.  We achieve lift-off, and in that mysterious, hanging moment, I say a prayer—as I always do—to help keep us aloft.  In my more idealistic days, I used to add a phrase of benediction for all the other people on the airplane, which eventually stretched into a wish for every soul who found himself away from home that day.  My good will knew no bounds; or maybe I thought that the generosity of such a wish would gain me extra points and thereby ensure my own safety.  But I stopped doing that a long time ago.  Because, if you think about it, when has there ever been a day when all the world’s travelers have been returned safely to their homes, to sleep untroubled in their beds?  That’s not the way it works.  Better to keep your focus on yourself and leave the others to sort themselves out.  Better to say a prayer for your own wellbeing and hope that, today at least, you’ll be one of the lucky ones. 
It’s a short flight: Boston to New York, less than an hour in the air.  As soon as the flight attendants can walk the aisles without listing too much, they’ll be flinging pretzels at our heads in a mad effort to get everything served and cleaned up before we’re back on the ground, returned to the world of adulthood, where we’re free to get our own snacks. 

I have in my lap, displayed rather importantly, as if it were a prop in a play no one else realizes is being performed, the manuscript of my latest book, The Nobodies Album.  This is part of my ritual: there’s my name, emblazoned on the first page, and if my seatmate or a wandering crew member should happen to glance over and see it—and if, furthermore, that name should happen to have any meaning for them—well then, they’re free to begin a conversation with me.  So far, it’s never happened.

The other rite I will observe today concerns what I will do with this manuscript once I arrive in New York.  This neat stack of white and black, so clean and tidy; you’d never know from looking at it what a living thing it is.  Its heft is satisfying—I’ll admit that to hold its weight in my hands gives me a childish feeling of look what I did!—but the visuals are disappointing.  Look at it and you’ll see nothing more than a pile of paper; there’s no indication of the blood that circulates through the text, the gristle that holds these pages together.  This is why, when it comes time to surrender a new book to my publisher, I make it a rule to do it in person; I want to make sure no one forgets the humanity of this exchange.  No email, no overnighting, no couriers; I will carry my book into those offices, and I will deliver it to my editor, person to person, hand to hand.  I’ve been doing it since I finished my second novel, and I have no intention of stopping now.  It makes for a pleasant day.  I will have a fuss made over me; I will be taken to lunch.  And when I leave, I will keep my eyes turned forward so I won’t see the raised eyebrows and the looks exchanged, the casual toss that will land my manuscript in the exact place a mailroom clerk would have dropped it, had I saved myself all this trouble.  My idiosyncrasies are my right, and as long as everyone does me the courtesy of not mocking them to my face, we’ll all get along fine.

Not that any of these people has ever been anything less than lovely to me.  I suppose I’m a little more attuned to these kinds of thoughts today, because I know that there have been a few…questions about the book I’m turning in.  This book is different from anything I’ve done in the past; in fact, I’m going to puff myself up a little bit and say that it’s different from anything anyone has done in the past, though there isn’t a writer alive who hasn’t thought about it.  The Nobodies Album isn’t a novel, though every word of it is fiction; do you see me talking around it now, building up the suspense?  Can you hear the excitement creeping into my voice?  Because what I’ve done here is nothing short of revolutionary, and I want to make sure the impact is clear.  What I’ve done in this book is to revisit each of the ten novels I’ve published in the last thirty years, and to rewrite the ending of each one.  The Nobodies Album is a collection of every last chapter I have ever written, each one tweaked and reshaped into something completely new.  Can you imagine what happens when you rewrite the ending of a book?  It changes everything.  Meaning shifts; certainties are called into question.  Write ten new last chapters and all at once, you have ten different books.

It’s possible, though, that not everyone sees the beauty of this idea as clearly as I do.  When I first mentioned my plans to my agent and my editor, they were not entirely enthusiastic.  “People love your books the way they are,” they both told me in their own separate, ass-kissing ways.  “Readers might get angry at you for messing with these novels they care about so deeply.”  Oh, they were so concerned, so solicitous of me and my legions of fans…it was almost enough to make me reconsider.

But of course it’s all bullshit.  It’s true that people come to feel proprietary about certain books, and once the author has done his part, they want him to back away politely; otherwise, he’s an embarrassing reminder that these stories didn’t spring to life full-formed.  I suppose that if Shakespeare were to reappear and say, “I was wrong about Romeo and Juliet; they didn’t die tragically, they lived long enough to get married and lose their teeth and make each other miserable,” there might be hell to pay.  But I’m not Shakespeare, and nobody involved with publishing this book is afraid readers are going to care too much.  They’re afraid they’re not going to care at all.
 

I’ve planned to arrive early—I don’t love New York, but I respect it, restless beast that it is, and it seems rude to me to pass through it too quickly.  So from the airport, I take a cab to the 42nd Street library; I like to poke around their collection of early 20th century photographs and stereographic cards.  A crucial scene in my seventh novel, in fact, was inspired by a 1902 postcard I came across here several years ago, though I can’t get too nostalgic about it, since the new version in The Nobodies Album wipes that scene clear away. 

My favorite picture today is from the same era.  Entitled “Morning Ride, Atlantic City, NJ,” it depicts several couples (and one standard poodle) being pushed down the boardwalk in a fleet of odd three-wheeled wicker carriages.  The women are all wearing extravagant hats; the dog, wind in its fur, looks happier than anyone.  I doubt I’ll ever use it for anything.  I don’t expect to do any period writing in the near future, and the idea of the sheer research that would be necessary to write a single paragraph about this image—are they riding in surreys? landaus? rickshaws?—exhausts me.  But I spend an hour making disjointed notes anyway, because you never know where ideas are going to come from, and as my eighth grade Latin teacher used to say, “muscles train the mind.”

I’m a little uncertain, actually, about what role writing will play in my life from this point forward.  Working on this last book has allowed me to see certain uncomfortable truths about the whole process.  I’ve always known that the best part of writing occurs before you’ve picked up a pen.  When a story exists only in your mind, its potential is infinite; it’s only when you start pinning words to paper that it becomes less than perfect.  You have to make your choices, set your limits.  Start whittling away at the cosmos, and don’t stop until you’ve narrowed it down to a single, ordinary speck of dirt.  And in the end, what you’ve made is not nearly as glorious as what you’ve thrown away.

The final product never made me happy for very long.  A year out, and I was already seeing the flaws, feeling the loss of those closed-off possibilities.  But I always figured that once a book was published, my part in it was done.  Finished; time to move on.  But The Nobodies Album shines a light behind that scrim.  It turns out, there’s no statute of limitations on changing your mind.  You don’t ever have to be done.  And if you’re never done, then what’s the point in beginning?  I drop my notes in the trash on the way out of the building.

It was my son Milo who came up with the phrase “The Nobodies Album.”  He’d just turned four.  He’d developed an interest in music and often engaged in games to stretch our extensive but finite record collection into something that could match the breadth of his imagination.  The Nobodies Album was, simply enough, an album containing songs that do not exist.  Have you ever heard the Beatles’ version of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”? he’d ask me, walking around our living room in a wide circle.  No, I’d say—I didn’t realize they ever sang that.  Well, they did.  His face would be serious, but his voice would swell wide with the excitement of creating something new.  It’s on the Nobodies Album.  Oh, of course, I’d say, I love that album, and I could see my words travel through his body, so happy I was playing along he’d almost vibrate, until it seemed like he might just crack open with joy.

Milo is now twenty-seven and the lead singer of a band whose songs most certainly exist, even if they’re not always entirely to my taste.  We haven’t spoken in almost three years.  My use of this childhood phrase of his is one part appropriation—the writer’s narcissistic view that everything I come across is mine, mine, mine—and one part transparent stab at reconciliation.  If I were being honest, I would have added a subtitle: See, honey? See what Mommy remembers?

I walk down the steps, past the lions, to Fifth Avenue.  It’s a dim day, early in November, and the sky is entirely without color.  The air tastes cold and burnt.  The sidewalks are crowded, and I join the moving swell. 

Milo’s band is called Pareidolia, and they’ve had a fair bit of success, though whether they’re here to stay or are simply the taste of the moment remains to be seen.  I can never be certain when I open a magazine that I won’t come across his face somewhere inside.  Not that it’s unwelcome when it happens—of course, it’s most of the reason I buy those kinds of magazines—but it’s jarring, and it leaves me feeling hollow and unsettled for the rest of the day.  Still, it’s allowed me to keep up with him, after a fashion.  I know that he’s bought a house in San Francisco, and that he’s been dating a pointy-faced little mouse named Bettina something.  I’ve seen them dancing together at a club he owns a piece of; I’ve seen them walking on the beach, throwing sticks for dogs whose names I may never know.   

I turn right onto Forty-Second Street.  It’s almost time for my meeting, and I should get a cab soon, but I’m feeling suddenly apprehensive, and I’d like a few more minutes on my own before stepping into my public skin.  A few minutes in the visual chaos of Times Square, where I am nobody to no one, and this brick of a book I’m carrying holds no more significance than a pile of handbills.  Perhaps less, because who can really say what’s worth more in the cool of the day: a parcel of story fragments, or the promise of remarkable prices on electronic goods?

It’s extraordinary, this assault of color and light, this riot of information, though the people moving through it seem barely to notice.  I try to absorb it all—the neon, the colossal ads, the day’s news moving past on the side of a building.  I dabble in a bit of time travel: if I were a woman from the 18th century (or the 17th or the 5th), and I found myself suddenly in the middle of this tumultuous place, how would I respond to a landscape so terrible and bright?  For a moment, I’m able to fill myself with wonder and fear, but I can’t maintain it for long.  My 21st century eyes are jaded, and in the end, this is nothing I haven’t seen before.

Several of my novels have had their origins in game playing of this sort.  My last book before this one, a spectacular failure entitled My Only Sunshine, came into being when I had occasion to hold a cousin’s new baby and I began to wonder what might be going on inside his soft, slightly conical little head.  The most basic of human mysteries—how do we think when we have no language, when we know nothing more than how to swallow, how to suck?—and yet every person on the earth has the answer stashed away in some jellied gray furrow of brain.  Not such an original thought (quite a banal one, really), but on that day it seemed as if I had discovered something new.  What if, I thought, which is the way books are always born.  What if I wrote a novel from the point of view of a newborn baby?  Start in the womb and carry it through the first six months or so.  Finish before she can sit without toppling, before she can lift a cup or blow a kiss.  What will she make of the family she’s been born into?  What will the reader understand that the protagonist herself cannot?  

Not much, according to critics and consumers alike.  Except for one reviewer, who said a few nice things about the way my books succeed at capturing “the texture of life,” the response was fairly tepid.  I’m sure that people will see a link between the failure of that book and my decision to write The Nobodies Album, and it’s true that My Only Sunshine was the first book I thought about revising post-publication.  But I’m not that easy to sway.  If writers ran to change their books every time they got a few bad reviews, then libraries would be very confusing places.

I check my watch; it really is time to get going.  I hail a cab and get inside, tell the driver the intersection I’d like to go to.  As he’s pulling away, I happen to turn and look out the window, and the news crawl catches my eye.  The tail end of a headline pulls at me, but I can’t be sure I’ve read it right, and then it’s gone around the side of the building.
“Wait,” I say.  My voice is strange.  “I need to get out.”

The driver makes a noise of disgust and pulls over to the curb.  Even though he’s only driven me thirty feet, I take a couple of dollars from my bag and drop them through the slot in the plexiglass partition.  I notice with some surprise that my hands are shaking. 

I get out and stand on the sidewalk, watching the news stories slide by.  People push around me; I’m touched on every side.  There’s a headline about the salaries of professional basketball players and one about wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  And then the one I’ve been waiting for comes around again, and the world changes in a series of cheery yellow lights: “Pareidolia singer Milo Frost arrested for the murder of girlfriend Bettina Moffett.”

In the moments that follow, as I stand mute in the middle of the humming crowd, the thing I’m most aware of is my own response to this news.  I don’t scream or faint or fall to my knees; I don’t burst into tears, or lean on a wall for support, or worry that I’m going to be sick.  I feel utterly, pervasively blank.  I’m consumed with trying to understand what I’m supposed to do.  If I were writing this in a book, I wonder, how would my character react?  But this isn’t fiction; apparently, if my senses are to be believed, this is life.

For a blink of a moment, I think about getting another cab and continuing on my way to my meeting.  But of course, I don’t.  I find my phone in my purse and call my editor; I tell her that something’s come up and I won’t be able to make it to lunch.  I don’t say what’s wrong, and I can’t tell if she already knows or not.  As for the manuscript—which I suddenly resent for the weight it’s exerting on my body, the way the straps of my bag bite into my shoulder—I tell her I’ll drop it in the mail.

And then I’m free and lost.  I force myself to begin walking again, though I have no idea where I’m going.  Sometime soon, I’m going to feel this blow, and I’d rather not be standing on this radiant bruise of a street corner when that happens.  I count out the things I’m going to need: solitude, a telephone, access to a computer where I can read the rest of this story.  Someplace soft to lay my body when the spasms finally hit.

I see a hotel down the block, and it gives me something to work toward.  Don’t crack apart here in the city’s guts; it’s not going to be much longer.  Keep it together for the length of time it takes to talk to a desk clerk, ride an elevator, walk an anonymous hall.  Swipe the card and feel the door click open.  That’s all you have to do.

This is happening; this is not fiction.  And the thing about life?  It doesn’t have texture at all.  Go ahead, feel the space around you.  Do it now.  See?  It’s nothing but air.
 
 
 
 
 

Continues...

Excerpted from The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Parkhurst. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

About the Writing of THE NOBODIES ALBUM
By Carolyn Parkhurst

Before I'd ever written a novel, I imagined that authors must be able to point to two dates on the calendar and say, "Here's when I began writing this book, and here's when I finished it." I knew that the middle part--everything in between the moment when you sit down with a blank page and the moment when you type "The End"--was going to be murky. But I figured that this much, at least--the calculation of how long you spent working on it--would be clear.

As it turns out, I was wrong. The layering of questions and images and half-phrases that eventually coalesces into the seed of a novel is subtle and complicated and begins before you commit to a single word. And, as I probably should have known, the work doesn't end the day you turn the manuscript over to your editor. The day of publication, at least, serves as a convenient endpoint. Finally, the author can say, "Okay. I've done all I can. Time to move on." At least, that's what I always thought.

Then I heard a story about an author who had made the decision to revise a short story she'd written more than thirty years earlier. The story had been published, anthologized, taught in university classes...and she'd decided it wasn't finished, after all. Honestly, I found the idea unsettling. I was a little annoyed with the writer in question for opening a door that I had assumed to be closed.

But like it or not, the idea stayed with me. Soon I had a premise--what would happen if a writer decided to change the endings to every one of her books?--and in that premise, there was a character whose desires and motivations were opaque enough that I wanted to figure them out. I was already thinking about the novels this author might have written, and how I would construct their last chapters: An epidemic which wipes out people's memories, but only the bad ones. A survivor of the Titanic finds himself haunted by strange images appearing in the cartoons he draws. A ghost-mother wages a custody battle between the living and the dead. I was already wondering: Why is she doing this? Does she think she can rewrite her past? Or is she hoping to create a new ending for her own future?

I began writing THE NOBODIES ALBUM the day I heard that news story. Or else it was the day I saw the first sentence in my head and typed the words onto a page: There are some stories no one wants to hear. Or maybe the day when I realized that there was going to be a murder to solve. I can't really say.

As for when I'll be finished with the story? It remains to be seen.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Milo invented the concept of a “nobodies album” of nonexistent songs when he was four.  What does this phrase eventually mean for his mother? How do they both use creativity to address their pain? What recurring threads are woven throughout Milo’s lyrics and Octavia’s fiction?

2. As Octavia rewrites the endings of her novels, how does she rewrite her own memories as well? How does the narrative of losing Mitch and Rosemary get revised along the way?

3. How did your opinion of Bettina and Chloe shift throughout the novel? How would you have reacted to Milo’s revelation if you had been in Bettina’s shoes? If you had been Chloe, how would you have handled the news of Milo’s upcoming marriage?

4. When Bettina’s mother, Kathy, accused Milo of domestic violence, were you willing to give Milo the benefit of the doubt? In your opinion, what did the note reading “someone is lying” really mean?

5. What makes Roland so attractive to Octavia? How does he compare to the other men she has known? Was he a good father figure for Milo?

6. My Only Sunshine is the first novel excerpted in The Nobodies Album. How does Octavia’s fiction compare to Carolyn Parkhurst’s? In what ways does the perspective of an infant girl enrich the tragic storyline of My Only Sunshine? What portraits of mothers, fathers, and their children does Parkhurst provide in varying scenes?

7. Octavia’s other novels include Carpathia, in which a distraught survivor confronts his memories of The Titanic; Sanguine, whose protagonist is wrongly accused of witchcraft; Rule of the Chalice, featuring a member of a crime-scene cleanup team whose child was a victim of brutal crime; and Crybaby Bridge, Octavia’s first published novel, written soon after the death of Mitch and Rosemary. Which of Octavia’s novels would you most want to read? Was the jacket copy enticing, capturing the true heart of the novels? How do these storylines reflect facets of Octavia’s own experience?

8. Octavia's friend Sara Ferdinand has an unusual response when she first hears the news about Mitch and Rosemary.  Do you think there's any truth to what she says?  Why do you think that it's only after this tragedy that Octavia is able to make a go of her writing career?

9. Two of Octavia’s novels are presented in a format that is different from the others. Why do you suppose she wasn’t ready to write a new ending for Tropospheric Scatter, set in Alaska and tracing the experience of an adopted child who was rescued from severe neglect? What was the effect of reading portions of the unpublished novel Hamelin alongside Octavia’s personal notes?

10. Tabloid journalism and online rumor mills represent another form of storytelling that drives The Nobodies Album. What does Octavia’s experience with the fake online interview indicate about the changing nature of storytelling in the twenty-first century and the blurred line between fact and fiction? What is the significance of the book deal Octavia receives, contingent on her producing a memoir?

11. How did you respond to the revelations regarding how Mitch and Rosemary died? Where should the blame lie? Why did the experience drive Milo and Octavia farther apart, leading eventually to four years of silence, rather than causing them to appreciate that they still had each other?

12. Discuss the book’s unique structure. What was it like to read a novel about a novelist—a book within a book? Did you look forward to getting to the next chapter excerpt, or did it feel like an interruption from the main story?  Did the structure make you think about the nature of storytelling, and way we recast our own stories as we work them into the overall narrative of our lives?

13. What do you predict for Lia’s future? How will she remember her mother, and her grandmother?

14. Parkhurst’s previous novels, Lost and Found (set on a reality show) and The Dogs of Babel (in which a grieving husband hopes that his dog can reveal the truth about how his wife died), blend mystery with careful scrutiny of her characters and their relationships. How are Parkhurst’s previous themes amplified in The Nobodies Album?

15. Octavia is a mercurial character.  She's both egotistical and also her own harshest critic.  Did you find her to be a sympathetic protagonist?  Did you like her more or less as the book went on?

16. Put yourself in Octavia Frost’s shoes for a moment:  if you could re-write the ending to The Nobodies Album, what would it be?

17. For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center e-newsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 32 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    AWESOME!

    Let me start by saying that I LOVED "Dogs of Babel" and recommended it to a lot of my friends. So I was very happy when I found "The Nobodies Album". I thought this book was incredible. It actually gave me chills a few times, and I had to put it down for a few moments to catch my breath! This is a really really good book. Very strong emotions. Love the way Carolyn Parkhurst writes about things that are totally original and unique, such great new ideas! I read a lot so finding something that's a completely new concept for a book is a real treat. This book has everything - mystery, love, loss, grief, very emotional. I love it and I can't wait for her next book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Nobodies Album

    The Nobodies Album is a multi-layered story revolving around author Octavia Frost, who has written a new book which is nothing but re-written endings to her previous books. On her way to drop her manuscript to her editor, she sees a news flash that her son, a popular rock star is being accused of killing his lover. Having being estranged from him for four years, she tries to reconnect with him and help him in his time of need. This is the meat of the novel which is also intertwined with the endings of the manuscript. In reading this story and the re-written chapters, we learn of Octavia's life and struggles and wonders if it could all have been different. Could we re-write our lives? This is an emotion journey and I enjoyed the ride, but at times found the re-written chapters a little distracting.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A pleasure to read

    Octavia Frost is a novelist who has decided to rewrite the endings of her previous bestselling novels. Many of her stories reflect the loss of her husband and daughter in a tragic accident years earlier. Currently estranged from her remaining child, Milo, a musician, she learns that he has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend.

    Part mystery and part reflection on the mistakes Octavia made with her son, Carolyn Parkhurst weaves the novels of Octavia throughout the book as Octavia reaches out to Milo and begins to try to repair their relationship while helping him through this terrible time.

    Ms. Parkhurst has written a lovely book about loss and love and THE NOBODIES ALBUM was a pleasure to read. Lynn Kimmerle

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2013

    Loved it

    Very interesting story. Well written. Strong and likeable characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012

    Excellently written

    Maybe I should give it 5 stars, I like it almost as much as Dogs, but it was very good. The portraits she paints of relationships of all kinds but especially familial are complicated, messy, relatable. I liked the title much more once I read that part as well.

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  • Posted May 25, 2011

    Ah-mazing

    There is one word to decribe this book and it is ah-mazing!!!!!

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  • Posted April 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A solid and enjoyable read, if not mind-blowing

    Octavia Frost is a successful author, but there are times when she feels like a failure as a mother. Having lost her husband and daughter at a relatively young age, she was left to raise her young son alone. The son that she must admit she was never really very compatible with. And by all external appearances, she was a good mother. She cared well for her son, gave him every external thing he needed. But there has always been a chasm between them. Despite this, they have both succeeded. She is a successful author, he is a popular musician.

    Then comes the day when she learns that her son Milo has been arrested for the murder of his fiance. She rushes to his side, unsure of how to best help him, and together the two of them begin navigating the distance between them.

    This book started out a little slow for me, but eventually it picked up and pulled me in. The relationship between Octavia and Milo is very real and believable. Her love for him is apparent, and her desire to try to "make it all better" is genuine. But Milo harbors pain from the past, and hasn't yet found a way beyond it.

    The actual story is interspersed with the endings of many fictional stories, and then alternate endings for those stories. This is probably what dragged the story down. While I enjoyed a couple of the stories, most were pretty boring.

    All in all, this was a pretty good story. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride-- up, down, enjoyable, not so enjoyable. Overall it was pretty enjoyable, with the last third being the best of the book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Family Story and Mystery!

    This book was so well written and very hard to put down. Author Octavia Frost has had a successful career but has been estranged from her son Milo, a famous rock star; they have grown steadily apart since the death of her husband and daughter when Milo was 9. But tragedy is about to bring them back together again when Octavia hears a news report that her son has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.

    There are excerpts from Octavia's books which all sound like books I would like to read! This was a story about family, failures, forgiveness and redemption. Through the words from the books Octavia has written you get glimpses into the life shared by her and Milo after the death of half of their family. Now Octavia and Milo need to work together to prove his innocence and repair their broken relationship.

    This was a very powerful book that flowed through the beautiful writing; it's so much more than a mystery but the mystery was a good one. This was my first book by Carolyn Parkhurst but for sure won't be my last.

    4 ½ Stars

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2010

    New combination of well written theme, character, and circumstance

    Just read it! I've read all of hers. This is the best, and I eagerly await the next.

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  • Posted August 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Book I Waited For

    One of the reasons I give 4 stars to books I enjoyed is that I know I will soon come across a book that stands above all of those. The one that a five star rating is meant for. The Nobodies Album is such a book. Elegantly written and touching the reader on so many levels, it tells a tale of mother and son, of an author who worries about the impact her books might have, who is somewhat sensitive when they are criticized. (Makes me think twice about my 2 and 3 star reviews!) But the relationships discussed in this novel, those of friends and family, are told in a compelling drama of a mother who was convinced that her estranged son could not commit murder, and the faith that kept her after him following four years of silence. A well-recommended read.

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  • Posted May 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Parkhurst does it again!

    Octavia Frost is on her way to drop off her latest manuscript to her editor in NYC, when she sees a news blurb that her son is accused of murdering his girlfriend. This is only big news because her son is Milo Frost, lead singer of the very popular band Pareidolia. Though it's been more than four years since she's seen her Milo, she flies out to be with him immediately. When she gets there, she meets the colorful cast of characters Milo has surrounded himself with, begins to salvage her relationship, and piece together the specifics of what actually happened on that terrible night.

    Parkhurst's novels have yet to be anything less than extraordinary. Dogs of Babel is one of the few books I continue to recommend to anyone who hasn't read it yet. Her second book, Lost and Found, was not quite on par with her first, but was still a fantastic read. And now with The Nobodies Album, she has returned to the gasp-out-loud high impact story I have come to expect from her.

    Let me start by saying I often find reading stories-within-stories to be tedious and distracting from the actual story I want to read. But in The Nobodies Album, the pieces flow together seamlessly. In fact, I came to look forward to the excerpts of Octavia's stories, as they were equally as engrossing as the main plot. The whole concept is based around changing the ending to a story after it is written, and in this sense Parkhurst plays with the readers mind, making them wonder if endings truly aren't written in stone (as they say).

    Parkhurst's writing gets deep into the psyche of Octavia, a mother having to go through more than her fair share of tragedies. There are some truly graphic scenes that made me have to pause my reading and think of something cheery, just to be able to go on reading again. However, there are plenty of tender moments in the book as well, and I found myself not wanting the book to end so soon.

    Parkhurst is an author I will always look forward to reading more of!

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    Posted December 6, 2010

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