Do we change or don’t we change?
I managed to get my hands on a copy of the newly released The Forrests at the airport and became so engrossed that the flight attendants were handing round the boiled sweets before I knew it.
This is the story of the Forrest family and the secrets and demons that haunt them. Their creator says that one of the family’s main problems is that there are just too many of them. Lee and Frank Forrest can’t live with or without each other, and they put their complicated, troubled relationship before the needs of their four children. The Forrest family is deeply dysfunctional and your heart goes out to each in turn.
The main character in the novel is third child, Dorothy. The author started to write, in a ‘mossy and accumulative way’, a series of poles in this character’s life. She selects interconnected threads that reflect changes of mood and style to create the novel’s structure. Underpinning the work is the question of whether or not human beings really change. Emily Perkins doesn’t aim to provide a definitive answer. Instead she shows Dorothy being influenced by the changing circumstances of her life. She adapts but there is something at her core that remains constant.
The Forrest family immigrate from the United States when Dorothy is seven years old. They are outsiders with not even the Commonwealth connection to make them feel at home in New Zealand. A boy called Daniel attaches himself to the family and shows them how to get by. He’s also an outsider from a troubled background but he’s a survivor. Dorothy’s complex relationship with Daniel is at the centre of this novel. He’s ‘a touchstone for her sense of self’ and provides the gravitational force in her life.
Emily Perkins has created memorable characters in this narrative. They’re familiar. I feel like I know them. The Forrests feels like a New Zealand book. The Kiwisms help – the possum smell of woman’s hair and the glow-worms that mirror the night sky. This is a story with ‘Auckland light and Auckland trees’. You sense the big sky and the mental space that surrounds the characters.
A new novel by Emily Perkins is always an exciting prospect and The Forrests doesn’t disappoint. The author’s aim is to experiment and she enjoys the freedom to be exploratory and do different things in every book. With The Forrests she says she breaks a style of writing she’d had enough of. This work takes writing rules and breaks them. It’s got emotional grit.
I’m already looking forward to her next work. Perhaps it will be The Albanian Book that was put aside while The Forrests was being written as part of her Masters thesis? Who knows, but Emily Perkins is an author with something to say and I, for one, am very willing to listen.
Snacks are the ultimate (writing) props. The kettle, the fridge, sharp pencils and good paper.