“The Nobodies Album” by Carolyn Parkhurst

Title: The Nobodies Album
Author: Carolyn Parkhurst
ISBN: 9780307714718
Pages: 320
Release date: June 15, 2010
Publisher: Doubleday/Random House Audio
Genre: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Can you rewrite the past?

Bestselling novelist Octavia Frost would certainly like to. And though she can’t erase the painful past that haunts her, she can change the only thing it seems she has any power over: her work.

Octavia is determined to re-write the endings of all of her previous books, and publish them as one collection. She is on her way to hand-deliver the manuscript to her New York publisher when the ticker in Times Square catches her eye and stops her dead in her tracks: Milo Frost, the lead singer of a rock band, had been accused of murdering his girlfriend. Milo, her son.

For the past several years, Octavia hasn’t spoken to Milo. Not that she hasn’t tried; he has refused to talk to her. And she can’t blame him. The argument that erupted between them all those years ago exposed the still-raw feelings between them after a tragic accident that shattered the family.

Octavia decides to fly out to California to see him. As the investigation into Bettina’s murder unfolds, the evidence against Milo mounts. The loving son Octavia raised would never have done this to the woman he claimed to love. Then again, Milo’s been gone for a long time, and Octavia barely knows him. As Octavia comments, “The simplest thing that can be said about any person, any relationship, is that it’s not simple at all.”

The Nobodies Album is a murder mystery, but Parkhurst doesn’t rush the reader. The slow suspense is accentuated by the unfolding of the tragedy that devastated Octavia and Milo.

Octavia as an author herself brings a touch of self-consciousness to the narrative. Even as she relays the action in the book, she is aware that she is telling yet another story, and views her life accordingly—almost, at times, as from a distance. When she meets Bettina’s mother for the first time, she wonders somewhat humorously who is writing her vitriolic dialogue.

Parkhurst cleverly weaves into the story the new endings of Octavia’s books that she had planned to publish.

Some of the excerpts are my favorite part of The Nobodies Album; I loved the poetry and power of the alternate ending of “Carpathia.” As a narrative device, I found the alternate endings—which were, in effect, powerful short stories—a fresh and interesting addition to the traditional murder mystery.

The revised endings allow poignant glimpses into Octavia’s and Milo’s past in a way that Octavia may not have been able to express herself. These snippets offer insight into Octavia’s nostalgia and powerlessness over the past, while also displaying Octavia’s optimism for changing one’s narrative.

Should she—could she—have done something different as Milo’s mother that would have prevented Bettina’s death? And is it too late to start over with Milo?

The bonds between a mother and her child, the pain and power of loss, and the healing power of time are all prominent themes, but Parkhurst succeeds in simultaneously telling an intriguing story that had me questioning the motives of each character and wondering how it will all end. The Nobodies Album is the perfect blend of literary artistry and suspenseful storytelling.

I listened to the story on audiobook and through some error—of mine or of the manufacturer’s, I’m not sure—chapter 12/13 and 14/15 were switched. After I figured that out, those parts made much more sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and intend to read it again (in order this time!).

I devoured Lost and Found, her second novel, and with this novel Parkhurst has confirmed her place as one of my favorite authors. Next up: The Dogs of Babel!

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