Thank You to Scribner for providing me with an advanced copy of Lori Ostlund's novel, After the Parade, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Forty year old Aaron Englund is filled with regret and uncertainty. He has left his long time partner, Walter, and moved across the country to start a new life in San Francisco. As he tries to adjust to his life in a new city, he begins to rehash the events of his childhood, including an abusive father and abandonment by his mother. If he is ever to be happy in his present, he must make peace with his past.
LIKE- After the Parade is a beautifully written and deeply affecting story. It's also incredibly unexpected. It goes directions that I could never have anticipated, starting at the beginning of the story, but continuing until the end. This isn't a story of shocking twists in the way of a thriller ( which it is not), but more a story that is surprising because it's unexpected. These surprises were often very dark, but sometimes poignant and delightful. There is a running theme of secrets, specifically the private, internal lives that all people lead. Can you ever really know what another person is thinking or anticipate their behavior?
Ostlund reminded me of one of my favorite writers, John Irving. It's the way that both Ostlund and Irving take a rather ordinary character's life and make it extraordinary. After the Parade is an examination of Aaron's life, trying to determine the events that shaped him into the man he is at forty, however, the story is quite an epic journey. I don't require a lovable or relatable protagonist, but Aaron is both of these. He isn't perfect, but he is a guy who you would want to have as a friend. He is essentially a very decent and kind person, who been through a really rough life. His good nature is a beacon of light during the dark moments that fill After the Parade.
Beyond Aaron, Ostlund populates her story with an unforgettable cast of secondary characters. Most memorable are Bernice, an obese cook who through a shocking backstory reveals her abandoned dreams of college, and a cantakerous dwarf named Clarence. It's these minor characters and their stories, who probably have a greater impact on shaping Aaron, than he even realizes. They certainly made a big impression on me.
DISLIKE- Absolutely nothing. I found Ostlund's novel so affecting, that as soon as I finished it, I found her on Twitter and wrote her a note.
RECOMMEND- Yes, yes yes! The story and writing are beautiful and powerful. After the Parade is a must read and I don't doubt that Ostlund will find her novel winning awards. It's that good.