My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent | Book Review

Rating: 7/10

Format: Audio-book – Library

Did you ever see the movie “Winter’s Bone,” starring a tiny, brilliant, Jennifer Lawrence? If so, did you find it horrifying and disturbing on a bone-deep level? How about Jennie Melamed’s “Gather the Daughters”? I will tell you right now, My Absolute Darling puts them both to shame with the utter visceral gory wrongness of it. This is a thing I did not know was possible, but that’s where Tallent brings us.

That said, this is the first book in a long time I have lost a significant amount of sleep to finish. It’s captivating, well-crafted, and well-paced. I rooted for Turtle with my whole heart. She’s strong but not Strong(tm) she’s deeply afraid, deeply unsure of herself, and truly struggles the whole way along.  Her story of survival was riveting, and I never knew if she was going to make it to the next page. I was compelled to keep reading despite many misgivings.

Here’s my concern about this book: our author is a handsome white dude. I have never met Tallent; we’re not close friends who share secrets. However, I could hazard a guess no one has ever touched him against his will. There’s an element of sexualization to 14-year-old Turtle and the incredibly graphic rape scenes in this novel that were chilling and disturbing, not only for their content– but that someone had to dream them up, make them flowery and bizarre, and commit them to the page. Add that to the fact that Tallent has referred to Turtle’s father as “a visionary,” in interviews, gives me some incredibly stark pause.

I don’t believe you have to experience something to write respectfully and accurately about it– I read an incredible amount of fantasy and scifi, clearly this is not my belief. However, I honestly don’t know how respectful and accurate this story actually is. I can’t help but feel it’s a akin to gore-porn or rape fetishism. Melamed’s “Gather the Daughters” also involves incest, but it’s delicately done, painful but not gritty, whereas Tallent seems determined to make every horrible moment as vivid and sharp-focused as possible.

I’m torn on his portrayal of Martin, Turtle’s father, in that he’s a textbook abuser (horrifying and rarely done accurately), but also portrayed as a tortured intellectual and dedicated environmentalist. (Sidenote: I’ve never met an environmentalist who enjoys throwing copious beer bottles directly into the field behind their house). That his abuse of Turtle is repeatedly written off to something he can’t seem to help– or is something inevitable– well, it reads like an excuse.

Honestly, there are better reviews of this book from a feminist perspective– I don’t feel I’m being particularly eloquent in my critique here. Just know that while I had trouble putting this book down– it wasn’t just the incestuous, violent content that had my skin crawling.

I’m honestly torn on whether to recommend this book. It was a fascinating read, but wow. I truly enjoyed following Turtle’s story through all kinds of horrifying, dark places. I also kind of hated myself for enjoying it.

This would have been a gorgeous story if it wasn’t so determined to rub salt in every wound it opened. Read at your own risk.

Subjective Hearts:  4/5

Objective Hearts: 3/5

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