Turtle Alveston, the 14-year-old heroine of My Absolute Darling, one of the most talked-about novels of the year, eats raw eggs for breakfast, cracking them into her open mouth. She sleeps on the floor, skins and roasts rabbits over a fire of dried grass and is an expert shot, spending her evenings meticulously cleaning guns. She even snacks on scorpions. Turtle is “A person of great strength and personal resources and courage,” her creator, 30-year-old Gabriel Tallent tells me. But he adds: she’s “A girl who’s lost.”
Gabriel Tallent was raised by a lesbian couple in the outlaw Hippielandia of Mendocino County, California, mixing free-range woodsrunning, a through soaking in literary, ecological and feminist ideas and a ferocious appetite for pulp fiction and guns.
Yeah, this has my attention. I mean, how can I not like a guy who says this:
“Going bushwhacking, I’d carry a copy of the Iliad – which I wanted to memorise in order to impress young women… It never panned out that way.”
And there’s this…
My Absolute Darling, which took eight years to write, started out as an “ideas-driven book, about ecological disaster … But I turned out not to be … didactic”. At university in Oregon, Tallent began a work of fiction set in the Pacific Northwest with a large cast of characters including dope-growers, anarchists and drop-outs. He researched local plants – knowledge that adds a specificity to the lushness of his nature writing – and guns. After college, when he worked as a waiter in a restaurant, he “spent a huge chunk” of what money he had on guns, and much time shooting them: “I felt I needed to vet every moment in the book critically and not rely on unexamined assumptions.”
I have occasionally tilted at the dour, ugly strain of feminism that slides over into misandry. Here’s some context that allows me to refine and clarify my relationship with the “F-word.” A lesbian couple (with cats named after feminist icons) that turns their kid loose to roam the woods and memorize The Iliad to impress chicks? — I’m absolutely down with that. One of my favorite people at UC Santa Cruz was a lumberjack-shirt-and-boots-wearing lesbian from Arkansas. We got along famously. We had a lot in common — a love for history; shitkicker music; the woods; guns… and women. She was smart as hell, took no shit, and was not afraid to call bullshit on the hypocrisy of her supposedly-tolerant peers who often veered into Stalinist purges of the ideologically suspect. What’s not to like?
That’s just an aside to emphasize the broad swath of common ground that exists for all kinds of folks as long as we’re not paying undue attention to puritanical cultural jihadists, language police, and all those others who are in the racket of division. Cuz I like ‘radical’ ideas, too. Hah!
Off to the library I go…