Warning: the first two things "you need to know" about Gabriel Tallent's *My Absolute Darling (listed below) aren't exactly ringing endorsements for reading the book.
But you should DEFINITELY read this book (IF the first two things don't apply to you).
I really loved this book, but given the reviews at Goodreads, it's clear that this book wasn't everyone's cup of tea (shot of whiskey?), and in fact, the book was quite controversial. Given the book's subject matter relating to sexual trauma and a minor, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.
Fourteen year old Turtle Alveston is being raised by her father Martin to be a survivor — he's taught her how to fire weapons, sharpen knives, navigate the coastal wilderness around their northern California and mistrust the outside world.
But Turtle isn't at all safe from the outside world — the kids at school, teachers who want to help, curious adults who knew her mother when she was alive. None of them could ever guess at how much her father loves her — or how terrifyingly manipulative he is.
Eventually, several events in Turtle's life force her to interact with the outside world, and she begins to open up. She begins to question her father's world, which puts her in danger — but also opens her eyes to what true friendship and caring looks like. In the end, Turtle must choose between the known force of her abusive father's love — and the unknown power of her own inner strength.
The most important aspects of this book
It involves sexual trauma, so as previously mentioned, it's definitely a trigger warning for women who have experienced their own sexual trauma. But I also have to emphasize (again) that the story is beautifully written, both in language and in its plotting. I couldn't put this book down!
1. Don't read this book if you get triggered by sexual trauma.
This is a terrifying book for just about anyone, but I can't imagine how bad it might be for someone who has been sexually assaulted or abused, especially by a loved one.
But then again, maybe this is just the book you need — because this is definitely a survivor's story. Turtle's journey is powerful allegory on survival. Gallant doesn't sugar coat anything, but I think that's one of the reasons I loved it. Talk to your therapist first if you're not sure.
2. Don't read this book if you're offended by vulgar language.
Gallant uses the c-word and the p-word pretty regularly throughout the book. Although I hate that kind of language in "real" life, in this context it served to sharpen the prose and create a very real world for the readers. It served to highlight the danger and emotional abuse that was depicted in the book.
Maybe just knowing ahead of time that the language is vulgar is helpful (I hope so — I think you should read this book if you can). Perhaps that way you can decide that you aren't going to let the language bother you like it would if someone used them in front of you.
The violence and the language in this book reminds me a little bit of the show "Breaking Bad." I remember being deeply disturbed at the violence of the show — but also thinking that the violence clearly (and compellingly) moved the plot forward to serve the story. I hate violence for violence's sake (I stopped watching The Walking Dead for that exact reason), but I can get on board if the violence serves the story in a way that's compelling and not overdone.
3. The setting is just as much a character as Turtle and the other main characters.
I love books that feature the land as character. Two books (that I loved) that come to mind are *Mink River by Brian Doyle and *The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (read my review of Hannah's The Nightingale here). Interestingly enough, both of these books are set at least partly in the Pacific Northwest. The rocky shoreline, the redwoods, the ocean and the various plants and animals Gallant lists throughout the book serve to create an experience of being alive and right next to Turtle as she picks her way through the wilderness.
4. You will love this book if you love stories about strong women outdoors.
Turtle has been raised to be the consummate outdoorswoman. She knows how to survive in the woods, how to butcher animals, find food and stay drive. She can fire a weapon and use a knife. Knowing all these things both keeps her trapped and saves her — this may be one of the overarching themes of the book. Nature is a bitch, but she's a powerful force for good as well.
5. This book is very polarizing
If you read the reviews, there are lots of polarizing views.
But for me, this book was a reminder of all the things I love about great literature: It asks us to confront difficult choices; it gives us an opportunity to understand the deep fears, dreams and motivations behind people who, from the outside, look just plain awful. It uses real language, and depicts scenarios that no doubt actually happen in our world.
Some of the reviewers accused the book of profiting off of pain. Literature is art, and for some people who read this book, and see a character who fights a good fight, it is inspiring.
Honestly, this book reminded me of how I felt reading *All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Like a terrible, beautiful, very important thing had been put in the world, and my whole life was consumed by it the moments my eyes flashed over the text.
Read this book if you love great writing, and feel that tragedy can serve a purpose. Don't read it if you just can't handle any more terribleness in your life (and these days, there's a lot of terrible stuff going on in the world, so I completely understand).
Other book reviews at Outdoor Book Club you might enjoy:
Have you read the book? Do you have questions about it?
Leave a comment below and I'll answer it!
Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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