” If this hadn’t come up we’d still be together, still working things out as we got used to each other. A year isn’t enough time to learn about someone—even ten years. Or maybe you can never really know whom it is you decide to share your life with. Maybe you just go through it and bend around the obstacles together and hope that one or the other doesn’t veer off into some unforeseen territory. ” [26:273]
What is meant to be will always find its way. The Palisades tells the story of how a family finds its way back to love. Nicholas has grown up with his father, stepmother, and brother Peter in southern California. After college he returns to Big Sur, where he last saw his mother, to claim a part of his life that was locked in the past. He used to think about her all the time at different parts of his life—fragments of tender memories with varying intensity—until a point where he put her out of his mind. An accident on a traumatic night ensues mother and son’s reunion, as Nick feels obliged to caring for Marjorie, whom Nick has always believed she abandoned him. Emotionally detached owing to a lonely childhood, Nick is swept by a gamut of emotions as he investigates the lives of his parents and comes to light of what really happened to his mother thirty years ago. The emotional terrain stirred up in The Palisades is poignant and unforgettable.
I’ve preserved myself, held on to the tenuous shreds of life as if for no other reason than to extricate the loneliness I’d felt and the self-hatred that plagued me in the course of being left to fend for myself. I built up enough armor and thickened it to the point that I could withstand almost anyone or anything that would dare to penetrate it . . . Matt has been part of that. [1:20]
That he has been left to fend for himself makes it difficult for Nick to trust Matt and his uncomplicated love for him. Not only that Nick has never professed love another, he has never grasped the meaning of love, because it is what he’s missed his whole life. To have settled down with Matt is a leap of faith for someone like Nick, who is constantly needy of something—assurance, consistency, and security—that he’s never experienced in life. Marjorie’s emergence puts their relationship to test because Nick is tempted to veer off to his own territory and shuts himself off. The scene in which the lovers deal with that emotional and sexual tension following Nick’s meltdown is explosive.
No. This is very new to me . . . I never really knew what it meant. I mean, we assume that you’re supposed to love certain people unconditionally, I guess like your parents or something, but I’ve never felt that. [9:107]
The Palisades is about love and healing. Told in alternating perspectives of mother and son, the novel revolves around family—how the loss of sustainable love, for Nick the loss of his mother and for Marjorie her Native American father, inform and predispose their lives. Description of family dynamics takes a myopic vision, as mother and son’s narratives meet half way and the truth revealed. The novel reaches the dénouement as Nick confronts the one misdeed that ruined their lives. In doing so, unbeknownst to him, he has triumphed over the emotional slump that has reigned over his life. This novel has resonated with my mind and touched some nerves.
285 pp. Trade paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]
I would like to thank Tom Schabarum for the autographed copy and for the privilege of reading this novel. For more information, check out Tom’s website.