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Smashwords book reviews by Donald O'Donovan
- Alone in the Company of Others: A Novel
on Nov. 19, 2010
Alone in the Company of Others
Alone in the Company of Others by Kelly Huddleston is a book for readers (I
count myself among them) who believe that the journey is at least as important
as the destination. Alone is neither a page turner that we must gobble up as
quickly as possible nor a whodunit that requires the exercise of our armchair
sleuthing skills, but rather it is an invitation to linger on the page, savor the
moment, surrender to the flow and let Huddleston’s exquisite music wash over us
and through us. A friend of mine who read a few pages of Alone complained that
it was confusing, and I admit that at times Huddleston seems to be throwing
handfuls of confetti at the us—I mean the rapid succession of characters and
events, like wave after wave of soldiers storming a beachhead, but as we read
on we discover that these multicolored bits and pieces of information are actually
threads that resolve themselves quite readily into a tapestry that is artfully and
The novel is narrated by Huddleston’s alter ego, the nubile heroine Camille who
is in love with her hunky cousin Russell. Camille lives in a household of great
talkers, a regular Greek chorus of them, in fact: Connie, Camille’s mother, who is
“nothing but a gear-grinding machine spitting out vowels,” Nurse Regina, who
spends “a great deal of time misquoting famous dead people,” the Triplets, who
have their own special language ”full of slurred vowels and biting consonants,”
Wanda, a voluble veterinarian, and the novelist Andrew, who declares that “squid
fishing is a religious experience.” Cousin Wilsie is the family historian. In lieu of
talking, he records everything others say on a toy tape recorder and scribbles his
own comments on a hand-held blackboard. Huddleston’s Greek chorus is topped
off by Duck-Duck, a mute girl who doesn’t speak at all.
The author’s orchestral treatment of her material is not limited to her characters
and their voices, however. It includes iconic objects such as Teresa’s
paperweight dove that killed the voyeur Dennis Goody and Clive Hutch’s gold-
plated bowling ball, and themes (before and after the fall, “cousin lust,”
hitchhiking men), and all of these interwoven themes, characters, objects and
voices come and go like motifs in a symphony.
Huddleston, in this superb non-linear novel, displays an adroit handling of shifting
timelines without resorting to cumbersome and patronizing flashback devices.
We can easily lay our hands on plenty of novels that follow the familiar
conventional linear structure, but a large percentage of these books are
unreadable because their sentences are stacked one on top of the other like
wooden planks. We don’t want wooden-plank sentences whose sole object is to
move the characters and the reader from point A to point B because this sort of
thing is dull and formulaic. A literary novel—and Alone is unquestionably a
literary novel—must have texture. It must have patina. It must have style. The
words must dance and sparkle and cavort as well as carry the story forward. And
in Alone we have it. Word-magic, I mean. Kelly Huddleston unfurls her lyric
weaponry on every page, without fail.
Huddleston’s precocious heroine-narrator, Camille, the spideress who weaves
this magical web, is engaging, literate, quick with her thoughts, sassy and
thoroughly unconventional. In other words, she’s good company. You want to
stick around while she works the pedals of her loom. You want to hang out with
her, to linger on the page, to savor the moment, and consequently, you don’t
want this book to end. Alone in the Company of Others does end, of course, and
the ending is brilliant, but that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Alone in the Company of Others, by Kelly Huddleston. Read this book. Savor it.
Linger over the pages as you would linger over an exquisite meal shared with