Monday, September 25, 2017

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallen

3 Stars

“I thought at least you could give me this, you could at least do that, but the truth is that you give me nothing.”

Welcome to my favorite week of the year! Unfortunately, real life kind of got in the way and I failed to realize Banned Book Week was quickly approaching until I received the pop-up reminder on my calendar this morning. It just so happens that by some strange coincidence I had finished My Absolute Darling last week and (of course) had not yet written anything down. While not yet a “banned” or “challenged” book yet, I figure it will only be a matter of time before this selection becomes one due to its disturbing subject matter and the fact that since it is about a 14 year old girl, there’s a good chance young people will want to read it.

What you have here is a coming of age story about a girl who named Turtle (actual name Julia). Turtle is a girl who lives up to her moniker – attempting at all costs to stay inside the safety of her own shell to protect her family secret from getting out. And I’m going to go ahead and spoil this because readers really need to know what they’re getting into here before they decide to add this to their TBR: Turtle’s father is not only emotionally and physically abusive throughout the story, but he also rapes her repeatedly.

I picked this up because of my friend Jennifer’s glowing review. Sadly, I didn’t have a 5 Star reading experience like she did. I appreciate what the author tried to do, but there were some things that pulled me out of the story – and when you’re reading something that should feel like getting hit in the face with a frying pan for the duration, being pulled away leaves you with a feeling almost like vertigo (which may be beneficial to many readers *shrug*). So what went wrong for me? Well, to begin with, this needed a heavier-handed editor. As I said before, it didn’t always flow for me. My initial thought was it must have been translated to English due to the excessive use of adjectives and detailed descriptions of the local flora and fauna (and at times, Turtle’s “engorged” bits *eww and also not really an accurate descriptor*), while the actual story itself (which should have been graphically brutal if it followed the author’s pattern of writing) was lacking. The choice of third person narration with everything being only from Turtle’s perspective was off-putting as well. I think this would have been much more powerful if written in first person. The way it was I had tons of questions I wanted answers to that could have been provided (and I’m usually one who is okay with not knowing every detail). But I wanted to know more about what made Martin a monster. Was his upbringing truly terrible? Did he repeat the sins of his father? Was he simply a bullshit artist? I wanted to be in his brain. First person would have made that impossible and I wouldn’t be griping about it. I also assume Martin murdered Turtle’s mother, but that was an open-ended matter as well. I’ll leave it that I’m dubious she died while “abalone diving.” While I do love the “John Green” type of teenager, Jacob and Brett were just a little too cool for school in my opinion. And then there was the little something extra (no spoilsies). This story didn’t need a kitchen sink thrown in FFS. Not to mention the over-the-top climax and tidy little ending wrapped up in a bow. Some stories don’t need to end well. This was one of them. As twisted as it is, if this was a YA book it would get more stars from me. I enjoy authors who are willing to push the envelope. As it was, this amounts to a decent debut. I’ll be interested to see what Gabriel Tallent comes up with next.

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