Books Within Books: The Nobodies Album, by Carolyn Parkhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years ago, Olivia Frost’s  daughter and husband died in an accident, and she struggled to bring up her son Milo alone. Now she’s a successful novelist, and Milo’s a world famous rock star. While on her way to deliver her latest manuscript to her New York agent, she’s stunned to see a Times Square headline proclaiming the news that Milo has been charged with murdering his girlfriend  at their home in San Francisco. Any mother would drop everything and fly to her child’s side, but in Olivia’s case, they’ve been estranged for the past four years. She goes anyway, hoping to find some way to help.

Olivia’s about-to-be-published novel is a unique, somewhat radical enterprise. Prompted by criticism that her books always have bleak outcomes, she decided to present the final chapter from each of her seven previous works, along with a newly composed revision that changes the ending and the  meaning of each novel.  The irony is that, having completed this new book, her son’s crisis forces Olivia to review her own past, and find ways to effect changes that will heal the breach with Milo and divert the course of her own life. Many of the chapters about mother and son are followed by one of the revised chapters, which relate metaphorically to Olivia’s current experience. For her, reality and fiction are intimately connected. There is also the mystery surrounding Milo’s guilt or innocence. Early evidence suggests that he is. Fortuitously, Ms. Parkhurst desists from turning her protagonist into a modern Miss Marple.

As with all good novels, The Nobodies Album  presents imperfect but compelling characters who struggle with the sorts of psychological upheavals and emotions that mark every life. What if parent and child are a bad fit? Is it possible to rectify mistakes?When the last page has been turned, the reader is left with much to ponder.

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