Debut Author Snapshot: Gabriel Tallent

Posted by Goodreads on July 24, 2017
The debut novel My Absolute Darling recounts the journey of a 14-year-old girl from adoration of her charismatic, survivalist father to anguished resistance. When her first steps toward independence provoke brutal retaliation, Turtle must violently turn against the very person who instilled in her the indomitable will to survive. With Mendocino's rugged coast and community of eccentrics—teachers, high schoolers, and parents—for its setting, this debut novel portrays a young woman's fight for her soul when the odds are against her.

Author Gabriel Tallent was born in New Mexico and raised on California's Mendocino coast by two mothers. After college, he spent two seasons leading youth trail crews in the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest. He lives in Salt Lake City and spends his time in the mountains, climbing. Tallent talked to Goodreads about his drive to write this book, how people with hard lives deserve to be the hero of the story, and the power of accepting people as they are.

Goodreads: Walk us through the process of writing this book and how you knew you had struck the idea for your first novel.

Gabriel Tallent: Process sounds like a wonderful thing to have, but throughout the writing of this book, I was a working person with irregular hours, and so I wrote whenever I could. I wrote at the bar between shifts, I got up early to write, I stayed up late, I was ruthlessly selfish about time. There was no process or ritual or schedule, only drive. My best friend used to tell me that if there are two ways to do something—an easy way and a hard way—you should take the hard way, and so I wrote myself to exhaustion.

After two or three years of that, I had a great deal of writing, a sprawling, idea-driven epic. When I decided to cut everything else and make each scene about this ferocious young woman's fight for survival, then I knew I had a real book. I knew it was going to take me years of writing if I was going to do it right. But I thought all I can do is work as hard as I can every day. I am not in charge of the rest. And so that's the book I started writing.

GR: Readers are very taken with your main character, a young girl named Turtle. Tell us about writing this book from her point of view.

GT: Turtle can make no sense of the harm her father does her. To even begin making sense of it, she must pit her own judgment against the part of herself that loves and trusts her parent. Her very heart is in conflict with itself. I wanted to tell the story of how she set about finding the strength and the clarity to resist that.

That's a good fight, I thought, to find your way out of such a moral and spiritual darkness. I have always loved such stories, the stories of how someone did something and how that felt. I did not want to put my ideas and judgments into it either, only to say what happened and how it happened, without censoring it or making it easier than it was. I decided that I could not take the hard parts out, just because we'd sometimes prefer that people not lead hard lives or because we wish bad things didn't happen.

As someone who has known people with hard lives, I couldn't say to them: Your life is so hard that you aren't worth writing fiction about. You cannot be the hero of a story. I wanted to say instead, See that she is a person like you, through all this difficulty and hurt, see her dignity.

GR: Many of your book's early reviewers on Goodreads discuss Turtle's abusive father and how you drew a complex character when you could have sketched a villain. How did you approach creating Martin?

GT: A person is not a monolith. Many of us struggle and fight within ourselves to be the best person we can, and I think many of us have seen people undertake that for the sake of their children, and many of us have seen them fail. You have to be pretty hard-hearted not to see how awful that must be.

At his best, Martin sees his daughter clearly, and loves her, and tries to prepare her to face down the world. And yet he is hurting her, and cannot help himself from hurting her, because the hurting salves some wound inside of him, and that wound is too grievous for him to think of anyone but himself for very long. And so he fights as best he can, with everything he has, but the fight is temporary, halting, characterized by relapses. He wants to be more than that. He is a kind of coprotagonist, struggling to raise a fearsome, independent young woman, but in him the hurt is too deeply rooted. I hate it, but I think it is true, that there are people who try their very best and yet cannot be more than their old injuries.

GR: What do you hope readers take away from My Absolute Darling ?

GT: That it could be you. That all this hurt and pain is only circumstance, and inside of it Turtle is a person like you, fighting to find her way, like you are. That we should not look away from injured people, that we should not say they will never recover, a statement that may or may not be true but which distracts from the real substance of their life by casting our attention away from who they are to who they could've been.

We need to take other people seriously and take them as they are. It makes a world of difference to Turtle; to be taken seriously, that's what saves her, and when she takes others seriously, that saves her a second time, when no one else can do it for her.

GR: What writers are you influenced by, and how do those influences show themselves in My Absolute Darling?

GT: William Gibson's Neuromancer and Toni Morrison's Beloved. Those books took my breath away. They had something they wanted to say and then went stylistically and narratively far afield to get there.

I thought: Follow the feeling of truth and see where that takes you, and do whatever you need to do in pursuit of that truth, even if you should have to jump some fences; and if that should take you pretty far out from what you see in other books, so be it.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

GT: I'm currently reading Woody Plants of Utah, The Rainbow, and Butcher's Crossing. I'm recommending Little Fires Everywhere, Chemistry, Autobiography of Red, and Anything Is Possible.

Read more of our exclusive author interviews on our Voice page.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Joan (new)

Joan Love the Mendocino Coast, especially the Brewery Gulch Inn. Can't wait to get the book.

message 2: by Jennie (new)

Jennie Accepting people as they are - a challenging statement! How bad does someone have to be not to be accepted as they are? Love the sound of this book though

message 3: by Sorena (new)

Sorena thank you.very god
saeid of iran

message 4: by Mike (new)

Mike Great questions with some very insightful answers. Thanks for this.

Lizelle de Oliveira My absolute favorite read to date. Loved this book and wish you could give Turtle a sequel.

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