Book Review: Author pays tribute to Mother Nature and a 14-year-old survivor – The Denver Post

Turtle, the 14-year-old heroine of Gabriel Tallent’s first novel, “My Absolute Darling,” is to be pitied, feared and loved.

Pitied because she is ensnared in possibly the worst set of circumstances facing any young person. Growing up feral in a ramshackle home deep in the northern California coastal woods, Turtle is being emotionally and sexually abused by her widowed survivalist father.

Feared because under her father’s training, she is an expert marksman who can strip and rebuild a weapon at a moment’s notice. She’s a modern, souped-up version of Huck Finn or Scout in “Kill A Mockingbird.” Turtle also eats raw eggs, rabbits and crabs she captures herself during her daily sojourn in the nearby forest.

Loved because no matter the taciturn front she puts up, she loves her father and wants to be loved by him. Turtle also has real affection for her protective but doddering grandfather, and is starting to develop an affinity for a teacher who is trying to help Turtle survive.

Turtle’s complicated and tortured life is fully displayed in Tallent’s work, which took him five years to write. But Turtle almost becomes a secondary character to the natural world that canopies her existence, like the shaggy redwoods and thick cobwebs that surround Turtle’s home, while giant crabs and fish swirl in the nearby ocean.

It’s a place where Tallent grew up in and pays tribute to in his book.

Tallent will discuss “My Absolute Darling” at the Boulder Bookstore on Sept. 25, and at the Tattered Cover bookstore, 2526 E. Colfax Ave., on Sept. 27.

Last week, Tallent talked about the origins of Turtle and his passion for the Western outdoors.

Denver Post: By your writing, it’s pretty obvious that you are in love with the northern California coast.

Gabriel Tallent: That’s true. But I just have a passion for wilderness as a whole. That’s my most fundamental love. I moved to Salt Lake City with my wife and we started climbing in Utah and it’s been wonderful. Definitely this book came out of my deep-rooted love of place.

DP: Is Turtle and the trauma she goes through based on the experiences of a real person?

GT: She’s not based on a real person. But I have grown up all my life in the company of women … and a good fraction of women out there are survivors (of abuse). And this is not just a women’s  rights issue but a human rights issue. Misogyny saturates every level of our culture. And one thing I wanted to do was put things that are true in this book.

DP: After all she suffers through, Turtle still loves her father. Why is that?    

GT: I think a lot of people who are abused go through a process where it’s incredibly hard to give up on a parent. I think a lot of people hold out hope that the parent will get better and won’t hurt them anymore.

DP: Turtle falls for two boys who wander through “her” woods one day. They are very funny, worldly and a little naïve. Were you like those boys? 

GT: I was a very serious reader and serious about literature. But I wasn’t that funny. I was much more serious and was one of those extremely hard-working kids.

DP: What did you read when you were a kid?

GT: A bunch of Aeschylus (the father of Greek tragedy), Sophocles, Plato and Immanuel Kant. I was also hooked on a lot of swashbuckling fiction. I loved those stories when I was a kid.

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