Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling is a devastating story of the resilience of children, despite the wickedness of the world they’re born into. 13-year-old Turtle was dealt a bad hand. She does not live – she only survives the trails of her relationship with her wicked father, fending for herself in the wilderness and convincing herself that she is loved and well-cared-for.
Turtle lives in a cabin in the woods along the coast of Northern California with her father, Martin. Martin is troubled, to say the least. He is radical – he believes that the end of the world is coming soon due to the disastrous environmental choices that humans have made. He has prepared for this for years and has pushed the same survivalist culture upon Turtle.
Sexism has been ingrained in Turtle since birth. Her tender eighth grade English teacher sees signs of abuse and tries to cultivate a relationship, but Turtle constantly pushes her away and maintains an internal dialogue of sexist vitriol. She is reminded that she is the exact kind of woman that she hates when she meets Jacob, a boy whose life could not be more opposite from her own and who makes her yearn for a life of more.
This is a story like you’ve never heard before, filled with dark and borderline disturbing imagery. The darkness is met with beautiful descriptions of Northern California fauna and a hopefulness that Turtle will break free from the dangerous chains of her father. Tallent writes with precision to create a story that is darkly beautiful and that I suspect you won’t be able to put down.
Special note: This book is very upsetting – terrible things are depicted. I think it’s an outstanding novel – nothing short of a modern-day classic – but I have a hard time recommending that you read it. There is a real possibility that this book may not be for you. Take care of yourself first and foremost – if you have to put the book down, please do.
Please take caution when reading My Absolute Darling if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Sexual assault
- Pedophilia / child abuse
- Gun violence
- Kidnapping / abduction
- Sexism / misogyny
My Absolute Darling is the most difficult book I’ve ever read, for a few reasons. The subject matter is bleak, to say the least. Further, Tallent’s writing is so advanced and descriptive – almost dense – that you have to work for the payoff of this book. I picked it up randomly at Target because I thought the cover was pretty, and I was… surprised, but I don’t regret it at all. If you’re looking to expand your horizon regarding the type and maturity of books you read, this will definitely do that. This is not by any means a light read.
That being said, this is the best book I’ve ever read. It left me stunned. Truthfully, reading about Turtle’s sadistic and radical father is fascinating. You learn about a world that you’ve probably never encountered – a world of isolation, of disinterest in the constructs of the world that include school and modern medicine, of deep familial secrecy.
It’s heartbreaking to read Turtle’s inner monologue of – at different times – fear, defiance, love, pride, humiliation, curiosity, and shame. She is so confused about the gaping differences between the world she knows at home and the world she encounters as a visitor in school or in town. She forces you to feel for her a mix of pity, hope, and frustration.
My Absolute Darling is, at its core, a story of survival. Turtle has been taught to fight for her life, and fight she must. Although her life is filled with disturbing realities that are very hard to read, the almost poetic nature of the novel, as well as the fascination that comes with the extremely unique subject matter, makes for a fantastic and heart-wrenching read.
I so appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts on My Absolute Darling. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.