My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

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My Review:

Wow!  My Absolute Darling is literary fiction at its finest! This vividly written debut is rich in language with full descriptive prose and incredibly complex characters.  Turtle, a motherless teenager living with her reclusive, resourceful, survivalist dad, has an unusual existence.  Some of her days begin with raw eggs and a sip of beer before she goes on the bus to middle school.  With little interaction amongst her classmates and not much interest in academics, her attendance is haphazard.  Not the typical northern California fourteen year old, she spends lots of time wandering around alone outside in nature and is often busy cleaning her gun.  Her large and physically imposing father, Martin, provides sparse supervision and motivation, yet he is all she has, and she says she loves him.  Martin loves her, teaches her everything he knows about surviving in this crazy world, yet they have an unspoken dirty little secret and there is a dark cloud of hatred between them.

The tension between Martin and Turtle escalates as the story progresses, with the death of Grandpa, the new boy in Turtle’s life and Turtle’s journey into adulthood.  When Martin brings home a young girl to live with them, Turtle sees the evil in Martin more clearly, her maturity coinciding with increasing will and courage to plan her escape. The damage Martin has inflicted on Turtle’s self image is seemingly unsurmountable, her self hatred is overwhelming and she constantly battles inner conflict, yet in other ways he taught her survival skills, and she must conjure up the strength to do what she needs to escape.

Emotionally painful and exhausting to read, I needed to put the book down at the end of each chapter to absorb, contemplate and recover, then was immediately compelled to pick it right back up again to continue.  It is crazy to say I loved a book with such distasteful subject matter, but the way author Gabriel Tallent developed his characters and moved me with his writing is a testament to the power of his words.  I highly recommend My Absolute Darling.

 

As seen on Goodreads:

Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.

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About the Author (seen on book cover):

Gabriel Tallent was born in New Mexico and raised on the Mendocino coast by two mothers.  He received his BA from Willamette University in 2010, and after graduation spent two seasons leading youth trail crews in the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest.  Tallent lives in Salt Lake City.

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