Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: August 29th 2017
Genres: Coming-of-age, Contemporary, Debut, Fiction, Literary
What do you need to know about Turtle Alveston beyond her weird name? Well, she knows her way around almost every firearm there is and she eats raw eggs for breakfast. She is fourteen, but while she goes to school she doesn’t talk and is about to be held back from high school. She lives with her father in the woods of Mendocino. These simple facts might sound like that’s all there is to Turtle and she’s going down fast, but as Gabriel Tallent shows in My Absolute Darling, she is so much more than that.
From the very beginning of My Absolute Darling it’s clear something is not right with Turtle or her living situation. Her father, Martin, waits for the bus with her in the morning and makes her practice shooting playing cards out of his hand. He is quickly revealed as a misogynist survivalist—hence the remote house, guns, rudimentary food and a staggering knowledge of gender-based curse words. Martin is her entire life even though it seems as if he’s either trying to kill her or love her. The outside world plays only a little part in Turtle’s life, but when she comes across two town boys who are not put off by her silence and, in fact, think her outdoor survival skills are amazing, she starts to realize that maybe her father’s view of women, life, and the world are not necessarily true.
For the most part, Tallent’s timing in My Absolute Darling is impeccable. If the klieg lights of Turtle’s reality had hit too early the reader would have been blinded and disbelieving. Instead, he slowly turns up the lights until everything is revealed. By that time, both the reader and Turtle have the emotional resolve to deal with what is before them. Unfortunately, at that point, Tallent loses restraint and the novel goes from creepy and wrong to deadly and dangerous. When I read the book a month ago, I would have said the action became unbelievable, but after the latest events in the U.S. I’m not even sure what that means. The action in the last few chapters is disproportionate to the rest of the novel, but maybe it is completely possible. The only difference is, in the real world I have to accept things as having no explanation and in my fiction I can still draw a line. My Absolute Darling is a challenging novel worth reading, much like Our Endless, Numbered Days and Gather the Daughters, but the culmination of the drama lost me.