By Emily Perkins
As any discerning reader will know, the aims of writers are not always equivalent; nor the purpose of fiction fixed. American author Ann Patchett recently described consuming fiction as “a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings.”
Emily Perkins’ new novel The Forrests is just that: an acute lesson in empathy. The feeling radiates. The reader acquires an insight into the situation of characters that also encompasses their own.
The Forrests provides a vivid and colourful annotation of life, but it is also a leaden one; a presentation of its disappointments and shallow capacities. There are times when this novel inspires awe with its grace. There are times when this novel inspires unease in its undimmed honesty.
Perkins paints the portrait of Dorothy; first as youngest child of The Forrest family and, later, mother of her own. With each successive chapter we are delivered another in a series of domestic moments from Dorothy’s life. These scenes float unbridled of a prescriptive narrative. Rapidly advancing the novel’s chronology, the chapters function like snapshots in a sparse photo album, rendered just as vivid through rich descriptive prose and evocative linguistic propositions.
The capacity of imagery is the novel’s foremost enquiry and clearly the most compelling for the author. Consequently, detail is applied thick and fast. The character of Dorothy provides Perkins an easy vessel (a scaffold) on which to hang decoration.
This novel is an unashamed experiment in stylistics. Plot, here in significant reduction, becomes the by-product of form. Event isn’t an entirely absent ingredient, but the marked moments of Dorothy’s life are quietly referenced, swept to the margins of the story.
The margins also house the reader’s prerogative and the key to unlocking the book’s promise. Such a conceptual rigour attends a more open and patient inquiry. Finding a personal stride within the weave and structure of the prose offers substantial reward. Once you fall into step with the rhythm and pace of The Forrests, the book delivers an experience that is surprisingly hypnotic and profound.