Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel, My Absolute Darling, the story of a man and his 14-year-old daughter living in the wild woods of Mendocino County, California, is filled with startling prose, untenable situations and a variety of abuse. Among the crashing waves, tide pools, huckleberry bushes, pine trees and other idyllic natural wonders are the alarming and disturbing descriptions of the life Martin shares with his daughter, Julia, aka Turtle.
Martin, a survivalist and self taught philosopher, waxes poetic and often speaks over Turtle’s head. She has trouble with school and is something of a loner among her schoolmates. Martin has taught Turtle to fish and catch eel, skin a rabbit, use a hammer and become an accomplished marksman with an array of pistols and rifles. You begin to learn that this is not your typical family when you read that their breakfast consists of a raw egg for Turtle and a bottle of beer for Martin which he opens with his teeth.
Their unusual family unit begins to fray when Turtle comes across two older boys from her school who are lost in the woods. She listens to their silly banter and perceives that their happy go lucky attitudes are at odds with the way she has been brought up. They face some dangerous situations together during their hike but Turtle comes to the rescue and helps them reach safety. She comes to realize that her family is not like those of her schoolmates and life with her father is anything but ‘normal’.
I won’t go into specific details, and I’ve warned you that this might be a difficult read, but if you take a chance, you will find it is very well written by an up and coming talented author. This gripping, tragic, provocative book will probably be different from any fiction title you have read. Be prepared to be shocked and horrified but try to keep the faith. Turtle, like other children who have suffered at the hands of adults they love, is conflicted about her living situation but, ultimately, she is a force to be reckoned with. This book is one you won’t forget and will want to discuss with others who have read it. You may love it or hate it, but will certainly be moved by it.