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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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Review: Consumed – just as provocative and indicative as the best of David Cronenberg’s films

Consumed by David Cronenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Cronenberg has crafted a novel that is just as provocative and indicative as you’d expect from the best of his movies. With both subtle and not-subtle-at-all tones, he points us in two excessive examples of consumption: human and electronic. Cronenberg asks: which is the more horrific?

Naomi Seberg and Nathan Math are both yellow journalists, kept together by salacious news and love of technology: “brand passions was emotional glue for hard-core nerd couples”. Naomi is focused on crime. Here, she covers a “French philosophical sex-killing murder-suicide cannibal thing”. Nathan is focused on medical. He’s led into such things like Apotemnophilia, or “body dysmorphic disorder” and folks that “roam the earth looking for a doctor who will cut off a perfectly good arm or leg” and the corresponding people stricken by Acrotomophilia, or “a sexual attraction to amputees”. To know Cronenberg is to know transgressive media.


Interestingly paired with the plot is a strong focus on brand awareness: the latest gadgets and gizmos with the highest megapixels and fastest speeds. The first signs, aside from the blatant and purposeful brand placement, is the French cannibal’s fascination with Karl Marx. This later translates into the “Philosophy of Consumerism” with its “fearsome beauty and provocative weirdness” (and you thought the above paragraph was provocatively weird?). Cronenberg looks at modern society for his best examples, including YouTube’s unboxing videos as the “epitome of consumerist fetishism”.

These worlds—digital and organic—all collide toward the end of the book. There are many chapters where the French philosopher—wife eater—Aristide Arosteguy, narrates in first person (as Naomi records it) which shows the building/declining of the couple and the mix of film and consumerism and human decay. Again, Cronenberg. Nathan talks about a reemerging sexually transmitted disease and “the politics surrounding the disease. All sex, all hysteria, very American.” He talks about “name that people are terrified to hear [such as Alzheimer’s]. Afraid that their doctors will speak those names to them.” Perhaps the girl that he later finds that is into “3D philosophical tissue printing” is a link to it all.

This book is not for everyone. However, for those willing to delve into the depths of Cronenberg will be well rewarded with his genius perspective and unique social observations. Movie fans will appreciate his taking of characters to the panel of the Cannes Film Festival and awarding of the Palme d’Or, as well as his nod to the recently deceased Oliver Sacks (writer of THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT, among many others, along with a book with film adaptation, AWAKENINGS).

Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is one of the best books you’ll read this year. On one hand, the title implies the lessons learned by a young German orphan boy about radio waves. On the other hand, as the author describes it, “It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II.” Add in a newly blinded French girl who is forced to leave her familiar surroundings, and you’ll soon find yourself in literary heaven.

The layered meanings run deep in this book. No wonder nearly every advanced review uses the word “intricate” to describe this masterpiece. The German boy and his sister discover an old radio, where they hear science lessons from afar. There are lessons about the brain, sitting inside the darkness of our skull, interpreting light; there are lessons about coal having been plants living millions of years ago, absorbing light, now buried in darkness; lessons about light waves that we cannot see—all applicable as the story unfolds.

Readers will appreciate the short, almost lyrical chapters of alternating characters. The author helps by italicizing earlier mentioned quotes and then leaving almost every chapter closing with a message to ponder. Take for example: “a real diamond is never perfect”, “open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever”, and “the entropy of a closed system never decreases”. All of this is explained in a natural way, but never given out in an assuming manner. The story flows and draws your heart into its deep meaning.

Having personal connections to both veterans of World War II and members of the blind community, I can attest to the authenticity of this story’s writing. Author Anthony Doerr brings out lovely characters, along with their own fascinations: seashell collecting, bird watching, locksmithing, electronics, and geology. The history surrounding these personal stories is real and deep. You will fall in love.

The author also includes connections to the song Clair de Lune, the book 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and a fictional story about a priceless diamond called the Sea of Flames, whose owner “so long as he keeps it, the keeper of the stone will live forever.”

I cannot proclaim loud enough how much this book means to me; I have been left awe-inspired. So, thank you to Scribner for making this book available for me to review. It has been an honor.

Be sure to check out the other praise-filled reviews of this book on Amazon: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel


Here is an excellent video summary from the publisher, featuring author Anthony Doerr:

Review: Chance by Kem Nunn (author of Tijuana Straits)

Chance by Kem Nunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

More than being a book about dissociative personality disorder, this book itself suffers from dissociative personality disorder. CHANCE’s disingenuous description labels it as “an intense tale of psychological suspense”, but what’s presented is humorous noir. The book’s biggest sin, though, is trying to combine intelligent narrative with fatigued cliché, both in character and in dialogue.

Believability, or rather a lack thereof, will kill any book. Kem Nunn’s deft and detailed description of San Francisco’s bay area certainly creates a strong backdrop, but the cardboard-ish characters ruin the scenery. Characters include: an omniscient ex-husband detective antagonist that may-or-may not be involved; a downward-spiraling, sex-deprived physiatrist protagonist; an enigmatic lurch buddy that can’t drive, but can quote GRAPES OF WRATH, expound on computer hacking, and is an apparent expert in the martial arts; and finally, the two-charactered patient scared of being found out, but has no problem rendezvousing in public or at her doctor’s apartment for an occupational midnight romp.

As for the dialogue, at times characters are referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) and the philosophies of Nietzsche, but at other times are dropping tired lines as “sup, dog” or “go big or go home.” It reads like Nunn tried to increase the cerebral draw to his novels, but couldn’t help but slip into his surfer dude history. This would have been a fantastic novel if he stayed consistent throughout.

Ultimately there wasn’t enough drive, nor was there enough conflict. The audience doesn’t care for the eponymous Dr. Chance, which is bad news for when he needs empathy for the bad decisions he makes. The villain isn’t villainous enough, and the mistress/patient isn’t alluring enough. As for the guy named D that sits in the back of the furniture shop, he’s a convenient enigma that is handy to have deus ex machinas sitting in his back pocket—in some cases, literally.

Proper branding and narrative consistency would have done this book wonders. Instead, we’re left with an okay plot that bounces around with some interest. This lands somewhere between 2 and 3 stars.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a review copy of this book.

Be sure to check out this book and its other reviews on Amazon: Chance: A Novel