Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Forrests by Emily Perkins

In 1967, an unusual family moves from New York to Auckland in Emily Perkins' character-based novel, The Forrests. "Reasons to do [...] with lack of success back home, a paucity of funds, an excess of entitlement." Frank Forrest threw himself into directing an amateur dramatics society in his new community and alienated most of the membership. His family lived in poverty and his wife, Lee, was his only cheerleader.

"Dot and Eve agreed that they hated their father."  Three years later, Frank abandoned them all and flew back to New York. Lee packed up her four children -- Michael, Evelyn, Dorothy and Ruth, plus Michael's friend Daniel, who at age 13 had pretty much moved in with the Forrests permanently -- and they moved to a commune on "wimmin's land" outside Auckland.

"Dot lay in the children's cabin on a bunk bed, on top of the thin red sleeping bag, sloughed like a cocoon over the foam mattress, yellow and bitten, that covered the plywood bunk base, and she wept over The Little Mermaid and for all her selfishness. When her father returned she would love him with an open heart."

Dorothy was 7 when the family first moved to New Zealand. The story follows the stages of her life in vivid, sensory snapshots all the way through to old age. From a child reading fairy tales to a senior woman with an eReader:

"Dot scrolled the pages of her book, another book she couldn't read without her glasses and magnifying glass; all very well enlarging the font but not when it ended up three words per line."

Perkins' writing style brings not only people but also individual moments into focus:

"The light was indecisive, shifting between bright and low, and it disoriented her, made her hurry in case of being late, so that when she reached the floral clock, tightly coiled in this early spring but still marking time between the green minutes, the Roman hours, it took Dorothy a moment to be able to read that she was early." (See a heritage photo of the clock online here.)

A beautiful, unsentimental look at the hardships and the rewards that make ordinary lives extraordinary.

Readalike: Carry the One (Carol Anshaw) for the examination of family dynamics over a long period of time.

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