a bookclique pick by Lindsey Mead
My Absolute Darling is a fever dream of a novel, as difficult to read as it is impossible to put down. I read it in two days, a couple of long, breathless gulps, and since I finished I haven’t been able to stop thinking of the world Gabriel Tallent created.
My Absolute Darling traces the maturation and growth of a scrappy, formidable protagonist, 14 year old Turtle. As the reader follows the arc of Turtle’s growing up and away from the difficult, mercurial, charismatic father she adores and fears, the story touches on themes of identity and isolation, adoration and abuse, society and wildness and the various ways each interplays with the other.
Tallent’s writing is urgent and intense, and the story comes on like a freight train. His evocation of the landscape of northern California is lush and the scenes of Turtle’s physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her father are harrowing. Turtle is a bewitching heroine who makes us root for her even as we are bewildered by her difficulty separating from her father.
It’s their relationship – tormented, abusive, replete with themes of power and independence and frantic, terrifying love – that forms the core of the book. Even as she separates from him in a final, violent episode, Turtle’s last words to her father are “I love you.”
I can’t say I loved this book, since so much of it was difficult to read, but it was without question one of the most powerful and un-put-down-able novels I’ve read recently, and the story and characters have stayed with me in a haunting way. Tallent writes a complicated, interdependent relationship without simple conclusions and in so doing has created a world, and a family, that has much to teach us all.