Alone in the Comapny of Others – Kelly Huddleston
(Open Books 2009)
Review by Donald O'Donovan
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 importantas the destination. Alone is neither a page turner that we must gobble up asquickly as possible nor a whodunit that requires the exercise of our armchairsleuthing skills, but rather it is an invitation to linger on the page, savor themoment, surrender to the flow and let Huddleston’s exquisite music wash over usand 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 throwinghandfuls of confetti at the us—I meanthe rapid succession of characters andevents, like wave after wave of soldiers storming a beachhead, b utas we readon we discover that these multicolored bits and pieces of information are actually threads that resolvethemselves quite readily into a tapestry that is artfully andintricately interwoven.
The novel is narrated by Huddleston’s alter ego, the nubile heroine Camille whois in love with her hunky cousin Russell. Camille lives in a household of greattalkers, 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, whospends “a great deal of time misquoting famous dead people,” the Triplets, whohave 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 oftalking, 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 goldplated 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 good friends.
In 2001, Escape Media published her first novel, The Perfect Pearl.
When she was nineteen, Kelly moved to the Island of Corfu in Greece where the literary heavyweights Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller once resided. The beauty of the island as well as the gregarious and colorful culture made up of Greeks and expatriates from all over the world continues to intrigue and inspire her.
Still living on Corfu, she works for an online English-speaking magazine about the island.
Currently she is at work on her next novel.