The Forrests by Emily Perkins

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