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I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"The Nobodies Album"/ "Father of the Rain"

Sept. 10, 2016: I was reading the National Post on Jul. 31, 2010 and it had "New and notable fiction" blurbs.  I can only find the big reviews:

Toward the end of May, a freshly roasted chestnut of the mystery genre appeared on Masterpiece Theater: “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side” by Agatha Christie. Audiences of contemporary television detective drama have grown used to stylish, clinical programs in which unshockable cops and coroners scan the evidence of grisly slayings. The chief suspense derived from each episode lies in which state-of-the-art device will reveal the “how” of the killing. But the personable, low-tech concerns of “The Mirror Crack’d” remind us of an empathetic era, not long vanished, when the question mark that hovered over any crime scene wasn’t so much “How did it happen?” as “Why?”

In this jaded age, the idea of intentionally setting out to construct a whodunit — however unerodable its appeal — strikes many writers as embarrassingly old-fashioned. So when the proud, private, much-published author Octavia Frost, the protagonist of Carolyn Parkhurst’s new novel, stumbles into an old-fashioned real-life murder mystery, her initial impulse is to resist even attempting to solve it. “I’m not a detective or a lawyer,” she demurs. “Like everyone else, I’ve read a few mystery novels and seen a few crime shows, and I think it qualifies me to form an opinion.” As Parkhurst’s story begins, Octavia has traveled, uninvited, to San Francisco not to sleuth but to visit her son, Milo, who broke off contact with her when he was 23.

Now 27, Milo is the lead singer in a rock band called Pareidolia, whose angry hit songs have titles like “Devastate Me” and “Plutonium Kiss” and lyrics like “I could have beat you to the ground.” Protectively, Octavia tells herself that Milo’s songs aren’t “particularly revelatory.” “How much can you tell about a person from what he writes anyway?” she asks. Octavia would like to think her son’s secrets, like her own, can’t be divined from the words he’s published. And she has persuaded herself that even when her own writing taps their shared experience, once she has “set my own rules for pri­vacy,” her tracks are covered. So when she finds a scrap of paper in a sugar bowl that reads, “Someone is lying,” she reacts with annoyance. “What kind of a B-movie is this?” she scoffs. “If this were a mystery novel, the note in the sugar bowl would spur me to take some action.”

But this isn’t a mystery novel. Or is it? Whether Octavia wishes to think about it or not, there has been a murder, and her son is the prime suspect. His girlfriend, Bettina, has been bludgeoned to death, and he’s been arrested for the crime. Pondering the sugar bowl, Octavia resents the clichéd notion that with her “child’s life in the balance,” she ought to make a Miss Marple of herself and get case-cracking. But with the risk of cliché outweighed by the threat of death row for Milo, her ironic detachment crumbles.

Octavia’s mind-set is up-to-the-minute: quick, adaptable and wired — in the sense of being plugged in to electronic media and technology. She uses Facebook and e-mail, and has kept track of Milo throughout their rupture with a “digital clipping service” like Google Alerts. To salve her ego, she tells herself that he surely does the same thing for her. Nonetheless, even a technologically with-it modern writer can’t always keep her cool. Octavia is in her early 50s, and her history reaches back long before WiFi, news feeds and Web surfing, into the marrow of her bones, the pit of her stomach. Eighteen years earlier, when she was in her 30s and Milo was 9, her husband and daughter (Milo’s father and little sister) died in an accident. Her career as a novelist began after the deaths; her relationship with Milo ended after the novels. Octavia has never seen Milo’s girlfriend, except in photographs in celebrity magazines. What kind of man has her son become in the four years since their rift? Did Milo kill Bettina? And if so, why? What does it say about Octavia, as his mother, that she doesn’t know?

Although Octavia doesn’t want to turn gumshoe, she can’t help believing in her estranged son’s innocence, and hoping some clue might save him. Like Milo, his mother mistrusts facile associations, and she dismisses early media accounts that point to Milo’s guilt — less out of maternal partiality (not that she, in her stoicism, would suggest such a thing) than because “in this strange age of technology and information, in which news is practically injected straight into our veins, replaced with a fresh drip each quarter-hour, nothing is ever final.” By the time she gets off the plane in California, Octavia reflects, “the story will have already changed.” She could construct any number of plausible explanations that would suit her purposes: after all, that’s the trade of a novelist. But that’s also why Milo stopped speaking to her. And it’s the crux of the larger mystery Parkhurst braids into this affecting, intricate novel. What has estranged this son from this mother? And how can a woman who’s able to manage fictional lives so adroitly manage her own so ham-handedly?

My opinion: Yeah, writing fiction is easier than dealing with real life situations for some people. 

“The Nobodies Album” doubles as the title of Octavia’s latest manuscript, which she’s about to hand over to her editor when she learns of Milo’s calamity. Octavia has published seven previous novels, each with a distinct subject and voice. Among them are a story about the guilt-plagued survivor of a shipwreck; a historical novel narrated by a woman tried for witchcraft in Elizabethan England; an account of the life of an infant in a violent home; and a fable of memory loss in which an epidemic leaves all but a handful of people incapable of remembering painful past experiences. She assumes her books have little in common until a fan points out that “so many children die” in them.

Lately, she has resolved to fix that flaw. “There’s no statute of limitations on changing your mind,” she reasons. “You don’t ever have to be done.” Her new manuscript reprints the seven final chapters of her previous books, accompanying each with an alternate conclusion. “Can you imagine what happens when you rewrite the ending of a book?” she asks, almost gloatingly. “It changes everything. Meaning shifts; certainties are called into question. Write seven new last chapters and all at once, you have seven different books.” But can you rewrite a book once it’s published, any more than you can retract an e-mail message once it’s sent or a blog post once it’s online? Can you relive a life? Octavia’s manuscript chapters, new and old, pop up throughout the novel like milestones, marking her journey to cover the distance that has separated her from her son. She had wanted to solve her life by rewriting her books. Instead she must do something harder: start to write her life again.

In “The Nobodies Album,” with a light but sure hand, Carolyn Parkhurst joins together four disparate literary forms: the family drama, the short story, the philosophical essay on language and, yes, the whodunit. Her weave is smooth, a vigorous hybrid of the old-fashioned, the modern and the postmodern. She reminds us what an act of will and imagination it has always taken for a writer to convert nobodies into somebodies in any genre, whether at the desk or in the world.

My opinion: This is kind of a deep article. 

"Father of the Rain" by Lily King: 

If you could return as an adult to the staging ground of your youth — showing people you’d turned out all right after all; taking that Ferris wheel ride with the middle-school crush who’d ignored you; reassuring your parents about how wise, how capable, how worthwhile you were — would you? Would it be the grown-up thing to do? Daley Amory, the protagonist of Lily King’s third novel, “Father of the Rain,” confronts this question as she revisits the wealthy Boston suburb where she grew up in the 1970s, summoned to tend to her narcissistic father, a man who lives by the WASP code, circa 1952, in which martinis, filet mignon and brick-red pants are what matter and “to take something seriously is to be a fool.” At 29, Daley, an earnest Berkeley-bound anthropologist, yearns to fix her father’s life, so as to mend her own. But was his life broken, just because it broke hers?

King is a beautiful writer, with equally strong gifts for dialogue and internal monologue. Silently or aloud, her characters betray the inner tumult they conceal as they try to keep themselves together, wanting others to see them as whole. Whether they’re children, teenagers or adults in their 40s, 50s and older, they demonstrate through their confusions that what we like to call coming-of-age is a process that doesn’t always end. Like people in real life, King’s characters alter their behavior each time they interact with someone different — parent, sibling, friend, lover, student, boss — exposing the protean nature of personality. Context controls character.

My opinion: The last sentence was deep.

King’s masterly first novel, “The Pleasing Hour,” follows an under-parented 19-year-old American au pair through a year in France as she negotiates her rapport with the members of a French family. They have secrets; so does she. In King’s second novel, “The English Teacher,” an emotionally numb single mother in her 30s (the teacher of the title) tries to impose a conventional life on herself by marrying a widower with three children. She thinks of his marriage proposal as “rehearsing, hypothesizing,” unable to regard her choices as anything but rough drafts.

In “Father of the Rain,” King reverses her practice of backing into past causes from the present. Instead, she begins amid the welter of Daley Amory’s childhood at its most painful moment, deep in her “child mind, which senses only the visceral — the smells of my father, low tide, wet dog, and the sounds of sea gulls and church bells and station wagons.” It’s early in the Watergate summer of 1974, the day after Daley’s 11th birthday, the day before her mother will leave Gardiner Amory for good, fed up with his drinking and his zestful bigotry. While her mother plays Lady Bountiful in the family’s backyard, holding a pool party for underprivileged African-American children, Daley goes to the pet shop with her father to choose a puppy for her birthday present.

“I’m not saying you’s not ugly because you is ugly,” her father croons to the new pet. “But you’s a keeper.” Back home, he mixes himself a martini, jeers at his do-gooder wife, then invites Daley to join him in streaking nude around the pool to taunt the guests. The next day, mother and daughter will drive off, leaving him behind. Daley agonizes: When they come back, will her father still consider her a keeper? Her fear is justified. Returning at the end of the summer, Daley finds another mother swimming in her pool, another child sleeping in her room. While she was gone, her father replaced his family.

The advantage of following Daley’s story chronologically — from her chaotic, insecure adolescence to her orderly, insecure adulthood — is that it helps explain the disproportionately large space that childhood miseries occupy in the adult psyche. Ours is an age fluent in ­“therapy-speak,” and close friends habitually discuss their parents’ scarring misbehavior, trading tales of family woe like ghost stories. When, at a graduation, a wedding or a funeral, those friends at last meet the groused-about malefactors — a mild lady with a snow-white bob and a hopeful expression, a courtly father who jokes amiably with his children’s peers — they ask themselves, wonderingly, These nice people, these were monsters? Decades past the age of the night light, it’s hard to understand the terror of old shadows.

But it’s a long time before Daley, haunted by her adolescent turmoil, can muster the courage to assemble a family of her own. When, in college and after, she makes wary steps toward that goal, she avoids the men who are most drawn to her, “overgrown prep school” kids with “long bangs, athletic achievements, loose-limbed walk, cow eyes and quick sardonic responses.” Such boys, she tells herself, “turn into men like my father.” Instead, she falls in love with an academic named Jonathan Fleury, a black man who grew up in the projects in Philadelphia, far from beaches and lobster traps, someone who, unlike her, has “the ability to articulate emotions that most people simply feel as a clump in the belly.” “I’ve never crossed the color line before. It just never seemed worth it,” Jonathan tells her before their long-deferred first kiss. Nonetheless, they make plans to live together in California — until a crisis pulls Daley back to her father in Massachusetts.

Daley doesn’t tell her father she has a boyfriend, much less that she has “crossed the color line.” Persuading him to join A.A. to secure her companionship, she transforms herself into the dutiful daughter she thinks he wants, cooking him steaks (though she’s a vegetarian), donning a tennis skirt to wear at the club (though she’s a feminist). But Gardiner remains defiantly himself — minus the vodka. When he spews racist remarks before dinner, Daley thinks, “Would Jonathan be horrified at my cowardice?” Eventually, Jonathan confronts her: “Everything is at stake for you. Don’t you get that?” But Daley is in the thrall of her 11-year-old self. “I want a father who doesn’t get drunk. He wants a daughter to take to the club,” she tells herself. “You want him to make your whole childhood O.K.,” Jonathan protests. “This isn’t about me,” she retorts. “It’s about him.” But is it?

Gardiner Amory, whatever his failings, has a permanent address. He knows how to marry and remarry, how to hold his liquor and keep up his tennis game. His daughter thinks he’s a mess, but to himself and his peers, he seems “perfect the way he is.” Some of his friends think Daley’s the one with the problem. “I wish you wouldn’t focus on your father’s flaws,” a neighbor chides. King shows the truths of their conflicting perceptions. Certainly, at 60, Gardiner doesn’t want to be reformed. “I know exactly what I want,” he blurts out at last, sick of his daughter’s interference. What he wants is for her to “butt the hell out.”

In “Father of the Rain,” King knowingly, forgivingly, shows both why Daley can’t butt out and why she must. Daley knows she’s guilty of being “bad at trusting the future,” but she can’t admit that this weakness is a crime against herself. Her father, with his unreflective gusto, and her lover, with his pragmatic idealism, have more in common than first appears: both engage with the future, however complicated, however uncertain. In their different ways, these two must steer her forward, teaching her about the duty she owes herself.


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