CAL­I­FOR­NIA SPLIT

GABRIEL TAL­LENT’S My Ab­so­lute Dar­ling

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - From My Ab­so­lute Dar­ling, reprinted by per­mis­sion of River­head Books, copy­right © 2017 by Gabriel Tal­lent.

Four­teen-year-old Tur­tle and her fa­ther, Martin, live in Men­do­cino, Cal­i­for­nia, a coastal town of nat­u­ral­ists, old hip­pies, and wealthy trans­plants from Sil­i­con Val­ley. Tur­tle’s mother died years ago un­der murky cir­cum­stances; fa­ther and daugh­ter have been alone ever since. Martin is con­cerned about global warm­ing and the com­ing end of the world. His fears are such that he has trained Tur­tle — for whom his nick­name is “kib­ble” — to use a gun, ad­min­is­ter first aid, and en­dure such tests of strength as hang­ing by her fin­gers from a ceil­ing beam while he pokes at her in­ner thighs with a knife. At night, he en­ters her room, tosses her gen­tly over his shoul­der, and takes her to his bed, where he rapes her. “I started writ­ing about a great many more char­ac­ters and a great many more things. But Tur­tle was the best, so I let it be­come her story and shucked away ev­ery­thing else,” said Gabriel Tal­lent, the au­thor of

My Ab­so­lute Dar­ling (River­head Books), a de­but novel that is re­ceiv­ing tremen­dous crit­i­cal buzz from out­lets such as The New York Times and Na­tional Public Ra­dio. Tal­lent, who grew up in Men­do­cino and now lives in Salt Lake City, was born in Santa Fe. When he was a child, his mother worked at Col­lected Works Book­store. He re­turns to Col­lected Works to read from My Ab­so­lute Dar­ling on Thurs­day, Sept. 14.

Tal­lent set out to write about the heart in con­flict with it­self, with an ad­di­tional theme of global warm­ing. “Some­times, some­thing is so im­por­tant to us that we think of it as an ex­ten­sion of our­selves — we’re un­able to see its in­de­pen­dent and im­por­tant re­al­ity. That’s an is­sue with global warm­ing, and it’s an is­sue some­times with abuse.” Tur­tle, he said, has been on a project of self-dis­cov­ery and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion for some time be­fore the story opens. When she meets Ja­cob and Brett, two boys around her age who are lost in the woods, she is al­ready open to the idea that her life must change.

My Ab­so­lute Dar­ling stands up to sev­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tions. It is a clas­sic hero’s jour­ney and an edgy com­ing-of-age tale. It is a tragedy about a charis­matic man who could have been a strong force for the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment — if he weren’t one of con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture’s cru­elest hu­mans, creating a world of fear for his daugh­ter and keep­ing her con­stantly on guard for real and imag­ined en­e­mies. It is a postapoc­a­lyp­tic young-adult fan­tasy novel, ex­cept that it’s not for kids and it takes place in the present day. It is an incest fairy tale in which the im­pris­oned princess acts as a brave knight, de­fy­ing death at many turns in or­der to save the day.

Men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als would prob­a­bly con­sider the mag­ni­tude of abuse Tur­tle un­der­goes to be un­usu­ally se­vere. And it can be challenging, at turns, to fathom how such a per­son could sur­vive such trauma on a daily ba­sis. Tal­lent said Tur­tle is just a girl try­ing to find the best path through her life, and that he re­sists the idea that vic­tims of pro­found abuse are in­her­ently dif­fi­cult to ac­cu­rately por­tray. He worked painstak­ingly through years of re­vi­sion drafts to re­move his own judg­ment from the ren­der­ing of his char­ac­ters, and he hes­i­tates now, af­ter the book’s pub­li­ca­tion, to as­sign la­bels to their strug­gles. He said that the novel is a

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