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Monday, August 13, 2012

The Forrests by Emily Perkins: Impressions


The Forrests by Emily Perkins is a novel told in a series of gymnastically articulated snapshots, each chapter vividly reflecting a different point in the lives of two sisters, Dorothy and Eve Forrest, who move from New York City to Auckland, New Zealand when they are around 7-8 years old. Though their parents come from money, they have wasted their trust funds, forcing the family to lead stressful and haphazard lives. Dorothy and Eve have two other siblings, Michael and Ruth, that reside on their periphery, but never quite fully engage with the other two.

Admittedly, I had a hard time getting into this book, the first chapter seeming to jump all over in time within a paragraph or two. (I have an obsession with fitting events into a sequentially accurate timeline - I'm fine with jumping around in time, as long as I can place where in time I am.) But by the second chapter or so, the novel began to hit its stride: Perkins' colorful descriptions bringing to life each vignette in a different way. She could precisely capture those moments between childhood and adulthood where everyone else's lives seem shinier than yours:
Eve refused to be the one to bring it up. To ask the question would only make real the ice field between them, the blank that she was left standing in, alone. This was the worst of it - this plunging sense that everyone had got something she had not.
She also manages to capture those bits in which we learn to put on those shiny, everything's-totally-fine appearances (or at least, we believe we're fooling those to whom we're talking):
Flickered with adrenalin, caught out as always at the mention of his name, she told Mike that the last she heard he'd gotten married. Adulthood was like this - your voice calm, your face normal, while inside, turmoil, your heart still seven, or twelve, or fifteen.
Perkins' prose is enchanting, her descriptions uniquely acute. But what the novel gives us in pointed clarity it lacks in depth of field. It's as if in each snapshot, we're given one point of hyperfocus with everything else blurred in the background, darkening at the edges. I never felt I really got a sense of either Dorothy or Eve's separate characters, and their lives seem to be missing a certain fullness that they beg to portray.

Despite a few of its shortcomings, The Forrests pulled me into its glimpses of these women's ordinary but not-so-ordinary lives. Dorothy (and Eve, to an extent) survive but never escape their strange family and upbringing, but manage to find small bits of happiness along the way despite themselves. I'm happy I was given the chance to read the novel, courtesy of Bloomsbury USA, NetGalley, and TLC Book Tours. Check out what other reviewers had to say about the novel here.
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