Cover image for My absolute darling
Title:
My absolute darling
ISBN:
9780735211179
Physical Description:
417 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
920 L Lexile
Summary:
"Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father. Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her."--
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Copies
Status
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 0 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TAL 1 1
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST
NBCC JOHN LEONARD PRIZE FINALIST
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES'S MOST NOTABLE BOOKS OF 2017
ONE OF THE WASHINGTON POST'S MOST NOTABLE BOOKS OF 2017
ONE OF NPR'S 'GREAT READS' OF 2017
A USA TODAY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
AN AMAZON.COM BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A BUSINESS INSIDER BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

"Impossible to put down." -- NPR

"A novel that readers will gulp down, gasping." -- The Washington Post

"The word 'masterpiece' has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one." --Stephen King

A brilliant and immersive, all-consuming read about one fourteen-year-old girl's heart-stopping fight for her own soul.

Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle's escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero--and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.


Author Notes

Gabriel Tallent was born in New Mexico and grew up in Mendocino, California with two mothers. received his BA from Willamette University in 2010. After graduation he spent time leading youth trail crews through the backcountry of of the Pacific Northwest. Gabriel enjoys blackpacking and rock climbing. His stories have been published in Narrative and in the St Petersburg Review. His debut novel, My Absolute Darling, was published in August 2017 by Riverhead Books.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Room meets Rambo in this emotionally fraught first novel. Fourteen-year old Julia "Turtle" Alveston is growing up in Northern California, near Mendocino, under the overprotective eye of her abusive father, Martin, who, for all intents and purposes treats her like they live in a two-person survivalist camp-he teaches her how to shoot and hunt in the wild, and abuses and sexually molests her. Even though she goes to school, Turtle feels cut off from her fellow middle-school students until the day she meets Jacob, a high school student whose sudden appearance in her life forces her to question for the first time the way she's being raised. Martin adds a new member to the family, which forces Turtle to make a bold move to keep his history of abuse from repeating itself, leading to a suspenseful and bloody climax at a teenage house party. In Turtle, Tallent has crafted a resourceful and resilient character. Unfortunately, Martin is such an obvious psycho creep that readers will wonder why the characters he interacts with-Turtle's teachers, a friend from the old days-don't see through him. Jacob, too, in the dialogue the author puts in his mouth, doesn't sound like a real teenager. In the end, though, Turtle's story is harrowingly visceral. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* My absolute darling, Martin calls his 14-year-old daughter, Turtle. The girl's mother is dead, and the misanthropic and misogynistic father and self-hating daughter live, surrounded by guns, in a run-down house on the Northern California coast near Mendocino. A pariah at school, Turtle has only one friend and confidant, her alcoholic grandfather, until she meets funny, articulate Jacob, who is fascinated by her. Learning of her interest in the boy, Martin beats her savagely with an iron poker, saying You're mine. Mine. Perhaps further expressing his ownership of his daughter, he routinely rapes her, leaving Turtle with deeply conflicted feelings, both loving and hating him simultaneously. This is Turtle's life until her grandfather's death becomes the catalyst for Martin's disappearance. In his absence, Turtle leads a relatively peaceful existence in Jacob's company until her father returns three months later, bringing with him a 10-year-old girl, and things begin to change dramatically. Turtle is an extraordinary character whose thoughts and actions enliven the pages of Tallent's remarkable first novel remarkable not only for its characterization but also for its minute examination of the natural world that Turtle inhabits. So vivid is the gorgeously realized setting that it becomes itself a major character in a novel that lingers in the mind long after the final page.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2017 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

SAPIENS: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. (Harper Perennial, $22.99.) Harari, an Israeli historian, delves into humanity's history, exploring why Homo sapiens - once just one human species among several - dominated. This sweeping account attempts to tell a genetic, cultural and social history, with a particular focus on the roles of cognition and agricultural and scientific advancements in our evolution. MEN WITHOUT WOMEN: Stories, by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. (Vintage, $16.) In these seven tales, emotionally adrift men long for the women they love; one story compares the experience to "a pastelcolored Persian carpet." Our reviewer, Jay Fielden, praised the "rainy Tokyo of unfaithful women, neat single malt, stray cats, cool cars and classic jazz played on hi-fi setups." WRESTLING WITH HIS ANGEL: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1849-1856, by Sidney Blumenthal. (Simon & Schuster, $18.) By 1849, Lincoln's only term as a representative comes to an undistinguished end. The second installment of this biography follows Lincoln as he clashed with his rival, Stephen A. Douglas, who advanced policies that helped expand slavery; eked out a political future; and aligned with the Republicans. THE BURNING GIRL, by Claire Messud. (Norton, $15.95.) Julia and Cassie, two teenagers in Massachusetts, have been best friends since nursery school, but as they edge into adolescence the friendship begins to unravel. Messud is skilled at capturing the perils and rites of passage that come with being a teenage girl, along with the intimacies and heartbreak of female friendships. Ultimately, the book is "a story about stories - their power, necessity and inevitable artifice," our reviewer, Laura Lippman, wrote. WHY WE SLEEP: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker. (Scribner, $17.) Walker, who directs Berkeley's Center for Human Sleep Science, sees our societal sleep deficit as "the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century." The virtues of sleep, he says - everything from better memory retention to the ability to overcome negative feelings - can dramatically improve your life. MY ABSOLUTE DARLING, by Gabriel Tallent. (Riverhead, $16.) Fourteen-year-old Turtle is growing up feral in Northern California, raised by her father to be a self-reliant survivalist. Her world is limited to school, where she's an outcast, and home, where her father trains her and preys upon her. A romance offers an escape, and she must use the skills she learned from her father against him in a fight for her freedom.


Guardian Review

A strange and impressive novel that frames big questions about abuse and civilisation against the wilderness of northern California 'You need to surrender yourself to death before you ever begin, and accept your life as a state of grace," Martin Alveston tells his daughter Turtle. It's heavy advice to give a 14-year-old, but she receives it willingly. First presented with a gun at the age of six, Turtle is now better at shooting than she is at school vocabulary tests. She can light fires and drive a truck. She can even, when commanded by her father, perform a makeshift finger amputation on a terrified visitor. My Absolute Darling is the much feted debut by the young American writer Gabriel Tallent. At its heart is the intense, warped love between Turtle and Martin. He's taught her everything he knows, giving her the skills that they both know will enable her to destroy him. In the meantime, he rules through a mixture of fear and love. She is compliant when night after night he appears in her bedroom to have sex with her, sharing his mixture of pride and shame. "In the waiting she by turns wants and does not want it. His touch brings her skin to life, and she holds it all within the private theatre of her mind, where anything is permitted, their two shadows cast across the sheet and knit together." This is abuse, and Tallent doesn't shy away from the fact, but he is also insistent on naming their love as love. This is partly down to the lyricism of his prose. It is additionally because Martin, though a controlling monster who's trapped Turtle in a frightening folie a deux, has created a world that remains enticing for her, primarily because of their shared closeness to nature. This is abuse and Tallent doesn't shy away from the fact Tallent grew up near Mendocino and the magnificent, inhospitable landscape of northern California is itself a character here. Turtle has been initiated into her relationship with the woods and beaches that surround their home by Martin, but that environment now feels more consistently nurturing than her relationship with him. Indeed, she feels guilty when she abandons him to retreat into the wilderness, and it's here that she meets Jacob, the boy who allows her to glimpse a new, more ordinary world and to admit to herself the unhealthiness of her own. From the point that Jacob and his friend Brett appear on the scene, the novel becomes a fast-paced adventure story, which explains why it has a puff from Stephen King, who has called it a masterpiece. This phase of the story is too heavily plotted for my liking, because when you're anxiously turning the pages wondering what will happen next there's less time to appreciate the detail along the way, and it's detail that Tallent is so good at. When he slows down, there's an excitement in smaller moments: the act of catching an eel can take on all the drama of a chase. Encouraged and instructed by Turtle, Jacob lifts a reluctant fish out of a rock pool "and it squirts out of his fist and he goes down hard on his knees, lunging, lifting it and again losing it" as it disappears beneath a stone. What we are witnessing here is an encounter with nature in which Turtle's world is pitted against Jacob's. She has been both seduced and repelled by the consumerism of his luxurious home. "Where are your tools?" she asks, perplexed by people who simply hire a tradesman when something breaks. Now she is teaching him to inhabit her world, and it's a lesson that almost kills them both, washing them up on a kind of magical island where they rely on her skills to survive. It's not hard to see why Turtle can't quite bring herself to forsake her home for Jacob's. In his saner moments, Martin is a kind of eco-warrior. "The natural world is going to die, and we're going to let it die, and there's no way we can save it," he laments. At its most abstract, the battle between Martin and Jacob, conducted through Turtle, is a philosophical one. The "absolute" of the book's title is literal. "You have always been loved, deeply, absolutely," Martin tells Turtle. He is an absolutist who lives in a Manichean world in which even target practice is a battle for the soul. The indoctrinated Turtle half shares his view, while secretly aware of its dangers. Pushed to the brink, she wonders, will Martin step back? She cannot be sure. Though Martin loves Turtle, it's a form of possessive love ("you are mine") that denies her individuality. He has distorted the philosophy he reads to create a world view that denies theory of mind: he insists it's only by inflicting pain that we believe in the possibility of the consciousness of others. Jacob, by contrast, offers a form of love that allows Turtle to exist fully as an independent entity. This is why she feels so released by her first contact with him. All along she has known that "her mind cannot be taken by force, she is a person like [Martin], but she is not him, nor is she just a part of him". Jacob provides proof of this. It is this growing subjectivity that Martin most fears. "There is a terrible inwardness to you," he tells her. And the reader is made to understand that it's only by cultivating this inwardness that she will survive. "I hate him for something, something he does, he goes too far, and I hate him, but I am unsure in my hatred; guilty and self-doubting and hating myself almost too much to hold it against him." At the end of this strange and remarkable book, civilisation triumphs. When we last see her, physically and spiritually broken, all Turtle can do is plant a garden in the town. This is a world beyond philosophy in which nourishment comes from nameable and tangible things. Her plants repeatedly die, but she tries again. "She just wants to build a garden and water it and have everything grow and everything stay alive and she does not want to feel besieged." * Lara Feigel is the author of The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love and Art in the Ruins of the Reich (Bloomsbury). - Lara Feigel.


Kirkus Review

A 14-year-old girl struggles to escape her father's emotional and physical abuse in this harrowing debut.Turtle (born Julia) lives with her father, Martin, in the woods near the Mendocino coast. Their home is equipped like a separatist camp, and Martin opines officiously about climate change when he isn't training Turtle in gun skills or, at night, raping her. Unsurprisingly, Turtle is isolated, self-hating, and cruel to her classmates. She also possesses the kind of strength that suggests she could leave Martin if she had help, but her concerned teacher and grandfather are unsure what to do, and once Martin pulls her out of school and her grandfather dies, the point is moot. Can she get out? Tallent delays the answer to that question, of course, but before the climax he's written a fearless adventure tale that's as savvy about internal emotional storms as it is about wrangling with family and nature. Turtle gets a glimpse of a better life through Jacob, a classmate from a well-off family ("she feels brilliantly included within that province of things she wants"), and her efforts to save him in the woods earn his admiration. But when Martin brings another young girl home, Turtle can't leave for fear of history repeating. Tallent often stretches out visceral, violent scenesTurtle forced to sustain a pull-up as Martin holds a knife beneath her, homebrew surgery, eating scorpionsto a point that is nearly sadistic. But he plainly means to explore how such moments seem to slow time, imprinting his young characters deeply. And he also takes care with Martin's character, showing how the autodidact, hard-edged attitude that makes him so monstrous also gives Turtle the means to plot against him. Ultimately, though, this is Turtle's story, and she is a remarkable teenage hero, heavily damaged but admirably persistent. A powerful, well-turned story about abuse, its consequences, and what it takes to survive it. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Twelve-year-old Julia "Turtle" Alveston-"Kibble" to her paranoid, survivalist -father-lives off-grid in Modesto, CA, and is barely making it through middle school. Her father prizes her ability to shoot accurately, reload quickly, live off the land, and be self-sufficient. He demands disdain for authority, misogyny, and isolation from others. When Turtle secretly befriends some boys her own age and witnesses "normal" family life, she begins to rebel. Her mutiny results in extreme violence, causing her to wonder if pursuing normalcy is worth it. Told with incredible tension, this fast-paced adventure dives into the deepest, darkest depths of the human psyche. Turtle is a superb character who is not only believable but relatable, despite the horrific circumstances she endures. Some listeners, however, may find this story difficult to hear owing to the long and explicit details of incestuous rape, torture, and violence, drawn through Turtle's voice, that force the story forward at a breakneck pace. Alex McKenna breathes life into Turtle and some of the book's more tangled prose. VERDICT A shocking, brutal, and completely unforgettable read, not for the squeamish.-Terry Ann Lawler, Phoenix P.L. © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

One  The old house hunkers on its hill, all peeling white paint, bay windows, and spindled wooden railings overgrown with climbing roses and poison oak. Rose runners have prized off clapboards that now hang snarled in the canes. The gravel drive is littered with spent casings caked in verdigris. Martin Alveston gets out of the truck and does not look back at Turtle sitting in the cab but walks up the porch, his jungle boots sounding hollowly on the boards, a big man in flannel and Levi's opening the sliding glass doors. Turtle waits, listening to the engine's ticking, and then she follows him. In the living room, one window is boarded over, sheet metal and half-inch plywood bolted to the frame and covered in rifle targets. The bullet clustering is so tight it looks like someone put a ten gauge right up to them and blew the centers out; the slugs glint in their ragged pits like water at the bottom of wells. Her daddy opens a can of Bush's beans on the old stove and strikes a match on his thumb to light the burner, which gutters and comes slowly to life, burning orange against the dark redwood walls, the unvarnished cabinets, the grease-stained rat traps. The back door off the kitchen has no lock, only holes for the knob and deadlock, and Martin kicks it open and steps out onto the unfinished back deck, the unboarded joists alive with fence lizards and twined with blackberries through which rise horsetails and pig mint, soft with its strange peach fuzz and sour reek. Standing wide-legged on the joists, Martin takes the skillet from where he hung it on the sprung clapboards for the raccoons to lick clean. He cranks the spigot open with a rusted crescent wrench and blasts the cast iron with water, ripping up handfuls of horsetail to scrub at problem places. Then he comes in and sets it on the burner and the water hisses and spits. He opens the lightless olive-green refrigerator and takes out two steaks wrapped in brown butcher paper and draws his Daniel Winkler belt knife and wipes it across the thigh of his Levi's and sticks each steak with the point and flips them one by one onto the skillet. Turtle hops onto the kitchen counter--grainy redwood boards, nails encircled by old hammer prints. She picks up a Sig Sauer from among the discarded cans and slivers back the slide to see the brass seated in the chamber. She levels the gun and turns around to see how he takes this, and he stands leaning one big hand against the cabinets and smiles in a tired way without looking up. When she was six, he had her put on a life jacket for cushion, told her not to touch the hot ejected casings, and started her on a bolt-action Ruger .22, sitting at the kitchen table and bracing the gun on a rolled-up towel. Grandpa must've heard the shots on his way back from the liquor store because he came in wearing jeans and a terry-cloth bathrobe and leather slippers with little leather tassels, and he stood in the doorway and said, "Goddamn it, Marty." Daddy was sitting in a chair beside Turtle reading Hume's An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, and he turned the book upside down on his thigh to keep his place and said, "Go to your room, kibble," and Turtle walked creakingly up the stairs, unrailed and without risers, plank treads cut from a redwood burl, old-growth stringers cracked and torqued with their poor curing, their twisting drawing the nails from the treads, exposed and strained almost to shearing, the men silent below her, Grandpa watching her, Martin touching the gilt lettering on the spine of his book with the pad of his forefinger. But even upstairs, lying on her plywood bed with the army surplus bag pulled over herself, she could hear them, Grandpa saying, "Goddamn it, Martin, this is no way to raise a little girl," and Daddy not saying anything for a long time and then saying, "This is my house, remember that, Daniel." They eat the steaks in near silence, the tall glasses of water silting layers of sand to their bottoms. A deck of cards sits on the table between them and the box shows a jester. One side of his face is twisted into a manic grin, the other sags away in a frown. When she is done, she pushes her plate forward and her father watches her. She is tall for fourteen, coltishly built, with long legs and arms, wide but slender hips and shoulders, her neck long and corded. Her eyes are her most striking feature, blue, almond-shaped in a face that is too lean, with wide, sharp cheekbones, and her crooked, toothy mouth--an ugly face, she knows, and an unusual one. Her hair is thick and blond, bleached in streaks by the sun. Her skin is constellated with copper-brown freckles. Her palms, the undersides of her forearms, the insides of her thighs show tangles of blue veins. Martin says, "Go get your vocabulary list, kibble." She retrieves her blue notebook from her backpack and opens the page to this week's vocabulary exercises, carefully copied from the blackboard. He places his hand on the notebook, draws it across the table ­toward himself. He begins to read through the list. " 'Conspicuous,' " he says, and looks at her. " 'Castigate.' " In this way he goes down the list. Then he says, "Here it is. Number one. 'The blank enjoyed working with children.' " He turns the book around and slides it across the table toward her. She reads: 1. The ______ enjoyed working with children. She reads through the list, cracking the knuckles of her toes against the floorboards. Daddy looks at her, but she doesn't know the answer. She says, " 'Suspect,' maybe it's 'suspect.' " Daddy raises his eyebrows and she pencils in, 1. The suspect enjoyed working with children. He drags the book across the table and looks at it. "Well, now," he says, "look here at number two." He slides the book back to her. She looks at number two. 2. I ______ we will arrive late to the party. She listens to him breathing through his broken nose, his every breath unbearable to her because she loves him. She attends to his face, its every detail, thinking, you bitch, you can do this, you bitch. "Look," he says, "look," and he takes her pencil and with two deft strokes strikes out suspect and writes in pediatrician. Then he slides the book over to her and he says, "Kibble, what's number two? We just went over this. It's right there." She looks at the page, which is the thing of absolute least importance in that room, her mind filled with his impatience. He breaks the pencil in two, sets both pieces in front of the notebook. She stoops over the page, thinking, stupid, stupid, stupid, and shitty at everything. He rakes his fingernails across his stubble. "Okay." Stooped in exhaustion and drawing a finger through the scum of blood on his plate. "Okay, all right," he says, and throws the notebook backhanded across the living room. "Okay, all right, that's enough for tonight, that's enough--what's wrong with you?" Then, shaking his head: "No, that's all right, no, that's enough." Turtle sits silently, her hair straggled around her face, and he cocks his jaw open and off to the left like he's testing the joint. He reaches out and places the Sig Sauer in front of her. Then he draws the deck of cards across the table, drops it into his other hand. He walks to the blocked window, stands in front of the bullet-riddled targets, shucks off the deck's case, draws the jack of spades, and holds it beside his eye, showing her the front, the back, the card in profile. Turtle sits with her hands flat on the table looking at the gun. He says, "Don't be a little bitch, kibble." He stands perfectly still. "You're being a little bitch. Are you trying to be a little bitch, kibble?" Turtle rises, squares her stance, levels the front sight with her right eye. She knows the sight is level when the edge appears as thin as a razor--if the gun tips up, she gets a telltale sheen off the sight's top surface. She revises that edge into a thin, bare line, thinking, careful, careful, girl. In profile, the card makes a target as thick as a thumbnail. She eases the play out of the 4.4-pound trigger, inhales, exhales to the natural slackening of her breath, and rolls on those 4.4 pounds. She fires. The top half of the card flutters down in a maple-seed spiral. Turtle stands unmoving except for quivers that chase themselves down her arms. He shakes his head, smiling a little and trying to hide it, touching his lips dryly with his thumb. Then he draws another card and holds it up for her. "Don't be a little bitch, kibble," he says, and waits. When she doesn't move, he says, "Goddamn it, kibble." She checks the hammer with her thumb. There is a way it feels to hold the gun right and Turtle dredges through that feeling for any wrongness, the edge of her notch sight covering his face, the sight's glowing green tritium bead of a size with his eye. For a suspended moment, her aim following her attention, his blue eye crests the thin, flat horizon of the front sight. Her guts lurch and drop like a hooked fish going to weeds and she does not move, all the slack out of the trigger, thinking, shit, shit, thinking, do not look at him, do not look at him. If he sees her across those sights, he makes no expression. Deliberately, she matches the sights to the quaking, unfocused card. She exhales to the natural slackening of her breath and fires. The card doesn't move. She's missed. She can see the mark on the target board, a handsbreath from him. She decocks the hammer and lowers the gun. Sweat is lacy and bright in her eyelashes. "Try aiming," he says. She stands perfectly still. "Are you going to try again or what is this?" Turtle locks back the hammer and brings the gun from hip to dominant eye, the sights level, coequal slots of light between the front sight and the notch, the tip so steady you could balance a coin upright on the front post. The card in contrast moves ever so slightly up and down. A bare tremor answers to his heartbeat. She thinks, do not look at him, do not look at his face. Look at your front sight, look at the top edge of your front sight. In the silence after the gunshot, Turtle relaxes the ­trigger until it clicks. Martin turns the unharmed card over in his hand and makes a show of inspecting it. He says, "That's just exactly what I thought," and tosses the card to the floorboards, walks back to the table, sits down opposite her, picks up a book he'd set open and facedown on the table, and leans over it. On the boarded-up window behind him, the bullet holes make a cluster you could cover with a quarter. She stands watching him for three heartbeats. She pops the magazine, ejects the round from the chamber, and catches it in her hand, locks the slide back, and sets the gun, magazine, and shell on the table beside her dirty plate. The shell rolls a broad arc with a marbly sound. He wets a finger and turns the page. She stands waiting for him to look up at her, but he does not look up, and she thinks, is this all? She goes upstairs to her room, dark with unvarnished wood paneling, the creepers of poison oak reaching through the sashes and the frame of the western window. That night Turtle waits on her plywood platform, under the green military sleeping bag and wool blankets, listening to the rats gnawing on the dirty dishes in the kitchen. Sometimes she can hear the clack clack clack of a rat squatting on a stack of plates and scratching its neck. She can hear Martin pace from room to room. On wall pegs, her Lewis ­Machine & Tool AR-10, her Noveske AR-15, and her Remington 870 twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun. Each answers a different philosophy of use. Her clothes are folded carefully on her shelves, her socks stowed in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed. Once, she left a blanket unfolded and he burned it in the yard, saying, "Only animals ruin their homes, kibble, only animals ruin their fucking homes." In the morning, Martin comes out of his room belting on his Levi's, and Turtle opens the fridge and takes out a carton of eggs and a beer. She throws him the beer. He seats the cap on the counter's edge, bangs it off, stands drinking. His flannel hangs open around his chest. His abdominal muscles move with his drinking. Turtle knocks the eggs against the countertop, and holding them aloft in her fist, purses open the crack and drops the contents into her mouth, discarding shells into the five-gallon compost bucket. "You don't have to walk me," she says, cuffing at her mouth. "I know it," he says. "You don't have to," she says. "I know I don't have to," he says. He walks her down to the bus, father and daughter following ruts beside the rattlesnake-grass median. On either side, the thorny, unblooming rosettes of bull thistles. Martin holds the beer to his chest, buttoning his flannel with his other hand. They wait together at the gravel pullout lined with devil's pokers and the dormant bulbs of naked lady lilies. California poppies nest in the gravel. Turtle can smell the rotting seaweed on the beach below them and the fertile stink of the estuary twenty yards away. In Buckhorn Bay, the water is pale green with white scrims around the sea stacks. The ocean shades to pale blue farther out, and the color matches the sky exactly, no horizon line and no clouds. "Look at that, kibble," Martin says. "You don't have to wait," she says. "Looking at something like that, good for your soul. You look and you think, goddamn. To study it is to approach truth. You're living at the edge of the world and you think that teaches you something about life, to look out at it. And years go by, with you thinking that. You know what I mean?" "Yes, Daddy." "Years go by, with you thinking that it's a kind of important existential work you're doing, to hold back the darkness in the act of beholding. Then one day, you realize that you don't know what the hell you're looking at. It's irreducibly strange and it is unlike anything except itself and all that brooding was nothing but vanity, every thought you ever had missed the inexplicableness of the thing, its vastness and its uncaring. You've been looking at the ocean for years and you thought it meant something, but it meant nothing." Excerpted from My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.