The Forrests

Emily Perkins

The Forrests
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The Forrests

Emily Perkins

Dorothy Forrest is immersed in the sensory world around her; she lives in the flickering moment. From the age of seven, when her odd, disenfranchised family moves from New York City to the wide skies of Auckland, to the very end of her life, this is her great gift and possible misfortune. Through the wilderness of a commune, to falling in love, to early marriage and motherhood, from the glorious anguish of parenting to the loss of everything worked for and the unexpected return of love, Dorothy is swept along by time. Her family looms and recedes; revelations come to light; death changes everything, but somehow life remains as potent as it ever was, and the joy in just being won’t let her go. In a narrative that shifts and moves, growing as wild as the characters, The Forrests is an extraordinary literary achievement. A novel that sings with colour and memory, it speaks of family and time, dysfunction, ageing and loneliness, about heat, youth, and how life can change if ‘you’re lucky enough to be around for it’.


Emily Perkins’ exquisitely descriptive writing style seeps into the veins and pulses around the body. It mixes with yearning imbibed with the confusion of a life having not quite worked out. This melancholy combination creates a desperate down, bordering on the domestic depressiveness of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. Yet there’s a constant sense in Perkins’ story that this sad suburban existence could get better if only protagonist Dorothy would shake herself up a bit. Alas Dorothy can’t or won’t change things.

Perkins follows Dorothy, and by default her dysfunctional family, from girlhood to her last years. Each chapter jumps forward in time and we very quickly move from backyard antics to aching adolescence to the disillusionment of adulthood and a feeling of being helplessly passed by. Daniel, and the lack of him, shapes the story.

Daniel is a family hanger-on; his meth-addled mother can’t care for him so he moves in with the disenfranchised Forrests, a family recently moved to Auckland from America to pursue father Frank’s acting dream. Both Dorothy and her sister love Daniel desperately but after brief flings with both he won’t commit to either. They are left forever longing for him as he trots the globe, sending random postcards from South America, Spain, and Paris. Daniel, the absent resplendent character, defines the others’ lives. Dorothy is left to live as best she can without Daniel.

Perkins began her study of the disaffected in her previous books Leave Before You Go and Novel about My Wife. Here she broadens her range to a family epic. The style doesn’t allow for much development of the other characters who are always on the periphery, but her examination of the way one person weathers a life is superb.

Amy Roil blogs at The Book Witch

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