Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"My Abandonment" by Peter Rock

"About five years ago, I read a short mention of a thirteen-year-old girl and her father discovered living in Forest Park, a rugged wilderness that borders downtown Portland. They had been living there for four years in a carefully camouflaged camp, ingeniously escaping detection, venturing into the city to collect his disability checks and to shop for the groceries they couldn't grow. He had been homeschooling the girl, who tested beyond her age group. A second newspaper article described how the two had been relocated to a horse farm; the father had been given a job, and the girl was to start middle school in the fall. I thought the situation was resolved, and filed the story away; then a third brief newspaper mention described how the two had disappeared one night. I waited and waited, searched the Web, but months passed and there was no more information. The two had truly disappeared. Unable to find out more information about how they lived or what became of them, my mind began to spin out possibilities. I realized I had to tell the story myself in order to satisfy my curiosity."

So Peter Rock wrote about real events, but he wrote them as fiction because there wasn't enough detail to do a non-fiction piece. And according to the interview he gave Amazon, he wouldn't have been interested in doing it if he could have written a true work about it. I found that very interesting. And when I went back and read this quote again about the real-life events, I realized why I didn't enjoy this book as much as I could have - my curiosity was not satisfied.

Caroline has been living with Father in the park for a while now. He came and "rescued" her from her foster family when she was ten and has been teaching her how to live off the grid ever since. He receives checks at PO Boxes in the city, so they do have some money; they eke out their existence by liberating certain goods from nearby businesses (but the never "steal" - they straighten up messes, throw away trash, repair fencing, etc, in order to "pay" for what they take), buying from stores, and occasionally trading with the homeless in the men's camp. Caroline has even begun a small garden but must be extra careful - they can't do anything that will leave traces of them in the park, leading the "followers" to them.

Their undoing is, of course, puberty. One day during "alone time", Caroline climbs into one of the lookouts and starts disrobing, all the better to examine the changes in her 13-year-old body. Unfortunately, a jogger happens to come along right about that moment, stops to catch his breath, and sees her white overshirt hanging in the trees. He finds their "home" as well, and ends up reporting his find to the authorities, who show up in no time to "rescue" her from her squalid living conditions. Plus she's not going to school - the horror! What had been an idyllic if unusual life is turned upside down by well-meaning people, and there are tragic consequences.

This story is interesting, I'll give the author that much. It's hard to believe that with all our modern conveniences, there are still those out there who would choose to live on the streets (or in the parks, or however you want to phrase it). Then again, if you're trying to hide your existence from the authorities, it's not a bad idea. It's obvious that Father suffers from some sort of mental disorder, possibly related to a war at some point (he has nightmares about helicopters almost every night). Then there's the matter of Caroline herself; you know from the beginning that she's probably not his real daughter, yet she doesn't act like she was kidnapped. Thankfully, there's no sexual component here, at least, not one that's overt; I kept waiting for "Father" to put the moves on the budding young girl.

The end is where this book fell apart for me. I was never entirely clear on what happened to Father (the logistics, not the ultimate "what happened?"), nor was I convinced that Caroline would just walk away to a new life as she did. Yes, some time has passed, but she's still not even 17 yet in the last chapter; she seemed too mature, too calm. And I found her interactions with some girls at a nearby high school downright creepy, wondering if the author was trying to say that once someone has lived that sort of life, they will continue to bring others into it, or if he was trying to write about some sort of female empowerment. Either way, it didn't work for me. The author starts to explain how Caroline and Father started their adventures together, but then he drops that before he tells us who Caroline was - and who Father was. Those are the sort of things I would have preferred to read about. Instead, the book just sort of fizzled out.

Overall, I guess I would recommend it. There were a lot of people on Amazon who seemed to think it was just brilliant, and a few like myself who were less than impressed.

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