Monday, March 11, 2019

Review: Tiny Americans by Devin Murphy

It seems to be a trend to use third person limited narration that rotates amongst two or more characters. It is less common, and perhaps a harder feat, to have those multiple points of view, all from first person narrative perspective. This means that each character's voice must be separate and distinct or the reader risks frustration and uncertainty about the "I" who is directing the story at that moment. In Tiny Americans, Devin Murphy's newest novel, he develops his characters beautifully, making the rotating first person narrative structure seem effortless in this poignant and well-written tale of a dysfunctional family and the roads they travel away from each other and then back again.

Opening in 1978 with Terrance Thurber's attempts to teach his children, Jamie, Lewis, and Connor, about the natural world while trying to get himself sober, the Thurber family's world will soon be altered and re-ordered forever by Terrance's eventual abandonment of home and family. Told in chapters alternating mainly between the 3 siblings, the novel examines how this seminal event made each of them who they are as adults, probes where each was broken by their family's dysfunction, and traces those broken echoes through their lives. It is an introspective study of family, searching, and forgiveness. Sadness leaks through the chapters, which span 40 years.

The narrative, primarily character driven, is chronological but spotted with intentional gaps.  The chunks of missing time don't seem important though as the characters are fully rounded by the moments the narrative does spend with each of them, connecting them to each other even when they themselves are not in contact. From the siblings' early explorations into the natural world to the contrasting ways they each cocoon themselves after their father's leaving, Murphy has written this very carefully, very precisely, and very beautifully. The novel is intricately plotted in its move from one sibling to the next sibling either a year or several years further on. It is a slow and deliberate, intimate, ultimately touching story of a family that has lost its way trying to find equilibrium and connection again, to repair themselves, and to find forgiveness.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for a copy of this book to review.

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