The Forrests

The Forrests

Emily Perkins, Bloomsbury

“I love it in books when time is unhooked from the clock — it’s one of the great things fiction can do.”  These are the words of New Zealand author Emily Perkins from an interview about her latest book The Forrests with blogger Angela Meyer (see www.literaryminded.wordpress.com/about/)

The Forrests creates the sense of timelessness well: ranging across years and decades while still paying attention to the particular; freeze-framing episodes in time and space.

The Forrests are an American family that decamps to New Zealand to start life anew. From the first pages its members seem restless types; square pegs in round holes, displaced.

Frank yearns for New York. His wife, Lee, leaves him after the marriage falters and takes the children to a commune.

The strange and alluring Daniel is welcomed early into the family as a kind of foster son who later gets romantically involved with two of the Forrest siblings, Dorothy and Evelyn.

It is Dorothy and Daniel’s story that lasts the distance.

Decade after decade Daniel floats in and out of the picture. He does not always realise the power he asserts as a result of his early and strong emotional impact on the sisters (both of whom get married and have children).

The novel explores family life in all its longing, fragmentation and complexity and shows clearly the conundrums humans face regarding time.

One such conundrum is that while we live (undeniably) in the present, the past (or snatches of it) can get dragged along, too, making a difference to how we act and shape our responses.

Similarly, what we forget can also leave traces — not always rational and sometimes confusing. Dorothy, for example, reflects on diary entries from years past: “They frightened her these words in her handwriting that may as well have been written by someone else, a woman who was capable of having those thoughts and doing those things.”

It’s strange, but somehow realistic, the way this family’s distances and closeness appear to be inevitable and organic rather than cultivated or premeditated.

For many years Ruth has been a long-distance sister to Dorothy but she eventually visits Australia. The connection is strained and not full-bodied, a disappointment.

As Dorothy says, “Ruth was leaving and she was once again glossy, so controlled, and since the mention of the will they hadn’t had a meaningful conversation and she felt stupidly scared of sitting in a café with her of ordering watery quiche and attempting to introduce the real things, the state of her marriage, the hole left by Eve, her fear that she lived her life on the inside, ruled by the fantasy that someone out there knew her, held her true self.”

The Forrests is intriguing but contains too much humdrum detail to be truly gripping. However, something about it lingers in the mind and emotions, at least for a while, like a dream.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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