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My Abandonment by Peter Rock

April 21, 2019

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This is a fictional account of a Viet Nam vet and his teenage daughter who live hidden in a public park outside Portland. The idea was inspired by a true story—a series of news articles about such a father-daughter duo. The true story had no ending, so Rock wrote one. “I realized I had to tell the story myself in order to satisfy my curiosity,” he said in an interview. “Perhaps some might hesitate at making fiction out of real people’s lives, or see it as a real imposition. I am a little uneasy about it myself but hope that my effort is a testament to my enthusiasm and respect. And wonder.”

The story is told from the POV of the daughter, Caroline. Unlike some child narrators, who filter the story through their own innocence or naiveté, Caroline is smart, thoughtful and observant. She recognizes that she is different from other kids, but we don’t get the sense that she’s unreliable as a narrator.

I came to this story via an interview with Deborah Granik, who directed the excellent film Leave No Trace based on this book. The film is simpler and has some significant plot differences. But at the center of both the book and the film is the question of a parent’s responsibility to a child. When the parent rejects what society has to offer, what of the child? And as the child comes into her own, what is her reaction to her “off-the-grid” upbringing? How does she feel about being an outsider? What is her attitude toward her father?

In addition to the questions around the morality of raising a child outside of society, it addresses the important problems in our mental health system, particularly our support and reintegration of veterans.  The father suffers from PTSD, and the daughter cares for him as much as he cares for her.

The off-the-grid questions are the same asked in Tara Westover’s best-selling book, Educated, as well as the film Captain Fantastic. They’re tough questions. Perhaps notable, though, all of these works seem to give the same answer.

I would recommend the film version of this story over the book. Where Rock takes the plot in the book is a little befuddling, and Granik’s decision to revise it in the film is a good choice. Still, this is a readable and thought-provoking book, and both the father and daughter are likable characters.

 

 

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