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AFTER THE PARADE by Lori Ostlund – A Celebration of Life’s Lonely Misfits – A Book Review

The dwarf with the tusks tells Aaron, “I have little interest in the unbullied masses.” AFTER THE PARADE is a celebration of the bullied minority. It is a celebration of those whose stories are sometimes painful to tell. It is a story of beauty. It is a story of truth. That’s precisely why I love Lori Ostlund’s AFTER THE PARADE.

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE’S LONELY MISFITS

This book is a celebration of life’s misfits: the foreign, the overweight, the gay. This book is a love letter of understanding for those that have been misunderstood, bullied, or cast aside. This book is for those that understand that “fear…is nothing but a stand-in for prejudice.” Some of the most endearing characters come from the stories of such people like the rapture-obsessed Aunt and the morbidly obese misanthrope (a word that Aaron loves).

What Ostlund writes makes my heart swell with pride and emotion. For the lonely, she understands. “He felt oddly liberated by his loneliness.” Aaron, the book’s protagonist, had never been alone in his 40 years of life. Raised in a small Minnesota town, “Mortonville had existed in a racial vacuum, its citizens not just white but primarily northern European.” At 5, his dad died. At 17, his mom vanished along with the town’s minister. Aaron had spent all of his adult life with his partner in Albuquerque. At page 1 of the novel, Aaron leaves alone for San Francisco.

PERMISSION TO DISCOVER

This is a book that gives you permission to explore who you are and to move and to change. Forgetting the past, finding the future. “It was all a matter of perspective: whether one was focused on leaving or arriving, on the past or the future.”

Aaron’s father died during the town’s parade. His mother was confined to the parts of town no longer crossing the intersection of her husband’s death. Even in the symbolism of a story about a house cat, not allowed to go outside, there is talk of confinement and familiarity: ”There’s no opportunity for how to get lost…You know, there’s something to be said for the security of the familiar, in all its confining glory.”

“Why were they scared?”
“Because people feel scared sometimes when they have to think about the world.”

What happens after the parade? In this book, Aaron’s trip of discovery takes him to San Francisco. For you, Author Lori Ostlund invites you to reach out of your confinements and seek your own discovery.

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THE INTRICACIES OF LANGUAGE

Ostlund draws upon her own experience as an ESL teacher, making her character Aaron the same. She loves to play with the various meanings of words from Draft Dodgers to the permanence of death–or, more specially, the word “hope”. Hope is a word meant for the future that can often act as a past tense verb. We hope that certain things didn’t happen; we hope that certain things were not true. We hope for a better future.

Aaron loved grammar “the way one loved the uglier child because it required more effort to do so.” Even from childhood, he had an Amelia Bedelia level of fascination with words. Certain words play into different meanings, have different effects. There’s a power in language, both native and foreign, both spoken and non. Ostlund takes every advantage of such.

STORIES WITHIN STORIES

The Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo says, “Lori Ostlund’s wonderful novel AFTER THE PARADE should come with a set of instructions: Be perfectly still. Listen carefully. Peer beneath every placid surface. Be alive to the possibility of wonder.”

I couldn’t agree more! I love to write down quotes as I read books, but I had to force myself to stop. There are so many layered meanings, so many rich qualities to each story. Don’t expect a point A to point B travel: expect to explore alongside Aaron as he visits his past and moves into his future. There’s so much to love and adore about Aaron and all of his acquaintances. There’s so much to apply to everyday life.

ALL OF THAT–AND LOVE

What’s a good story if it doesn’t talk about love? Ostlund explores beyond just parental and marital love: she wants us to examine love of self. You are worthy. You have permission. This is your life. What tragic thing happened during your parade and what are you going to do now that it is over?

“Perhaps that was the nature of love: either a person was not in it enough to care or was in it too deeply to make anything but mistakes.” No matter your situation, I encourage you to read AFTER THE PARADE and discover all of its caveated and deepest of meanings.

THE INTERVIEW

If your bookish appetite has yet to be whetted, be sure to check Dead Darlings’s interview with Lori Ostlund. I’m sure you’ll be unable to resist this book after reading through the author’s perspectives.