Sensitive, big-hearted, and achingly self-conscious, forty-year-old Aaron Englund long ago escaped the confines of his Midwestern hometown, but he still feels like an outcast. After twenty years under the Pygmalion-like direction of his older partner Walter, Aaron at last decides it is time to stop letting life happen to him and to take control of his own fate. But soon after establishing himself in San Francisco--where he alternates between a shoddy garage apartment and the absurdly ramshackle ESL school where he teaches--Aaron sees that real freedom will not come until he has made peace with his memories of Morton, Minnesota: a cramped town whose four hundred souls form a constellation of Aaron's childhood heartbreaks and hopes.
After Aaron's father died in the town parade, it was the larger-than-life misfits of his childhood--sardonic, wheel-chair bound dwarf named Clarence, a generous, obese baker named Bernice, a kindly aunt preoccupied with dreams of The Rapture--who helped Aaron find his place in a provincial world hostile to difference. But Aaron's sense of rejection runs deep: when Aaron was seventeen, Dolores--Aaron's loving, selfish, and enigmatic mother--vanished one night with the town pastor. Aaron hasn't heard from Dolores in more than twenty years, but when a shambolic PI named Bill offers a key to closure, Aaron must confront his own role in his troubled past and rethink his place in a world of unpredictable, life-changing forces.
Lori Ostlund's debut novel is an openhearted contemplation of how we grow up and move on, how we can turn our deepest wounds into our greatest strengths. Written with homespun charm and unceasing vitality, After the Parade is a glorious new anthem for the outsider.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-07-06
- Reviewer: Staff
Written over the course of 15 years, Ostlund’s debut novel (after the Flannery O’Connor Award–winning collection The Bigness of the World) follows a broken and empty man who embarks on a six-month journey to make sense of his past, in hopes of comfortably inhabiting his present. After 20 years cradled in the care of the older, stifling Walter, 40-year-old Aaron strikes out from the Midwest for better horizons in San Francisco. Yet when he settles into his new routine—teaching ESL to a ragtag group of foreigners and living in a studio apartment inside a garage owned by a perpetually squabbling couple—he finds it’s as unfulfilling as the one he left behind in New Mexico. On a sentence-by-sentence level, Ostlund’s prose is unmatched—smart, resonant, and imbued with beauty. But the book’s structure doesn’t always support the weight of two dueling stories competing for the reader’s attention—Aaron’s growing pains during his first few months in San Francisco and, via prolonged flashbacks, his difficult childhood in smalltown Minnesota after the accidental death of his father in a parade and the slow deterioration and eventual disappearance of his mother. Still, explorations of each character’s grief and regret, calcified resentment, and gnawing loneliness are vividly rendered. (Sept.)