Does Father know best? His teenage daughter is forced to wonder after they’re evicted from their city-park cave in this harrowing fifth novel from Rock (Writing/Reed Coll.; The Bewildered, 2005, etc.).
Caroline and Father had lived in the spacious park in Portland, Ore., for four years, Caroline tells us via her journal. After Caroline’s mother’s death, Father and Caroline were temporarily separated, but when Caroline was nine Father removed her secretly from her foster parents in Idaho. They have made a stable home for themselves in a Portland park. Father is scrupulous about housekeeping. He supervises her education; dictionaries and encyclopedias do the rest. Caroline has taught herself about the forest. She knows where the morels are. She can climb trees and smell animals. Though Father is strict, he allows her to roam. (He’s a vet, a recovering alcoholic and a Thoreauvian idealist; we don’t know more than that.) The 13-year-old will look back on these as happy years; no friends, true, but she has her talisman Randy, a plastic horse. For his little autodidact, Rock has found just the right voice: forthright, with a singular purity. As a result, we care enormously about her fate. Everything changes for the pair when a jogger discovers their hideaway. Armed cops break it up. Father and Caroline are put in the custody of separate social workers. Once they find no evidence of abuse, they settle the pair on a horse farm; Father is to do chores, while Caroline will go to a regular school. No, decides Father. “Regular won’t fit you.” They steal away, back to Portland, living on the streets despite the newly assertive Caroline’s protests. Father makes dumb mistakes and becomes increasingly paranoid, though his devotion to Caroline is constant. Away from the city again, in the mountains, Father will make his dumbest mistake, leading to catastrophe. Caroline’s intuition, keener than his own, might have saved them.
A moving evocation of life on the fringes, sparking many questions about our regulated society.