Review: ‘The Antelope Party’ is a literary achievement

When I say that I was moved by Elizabeth Brooks’s novel The Antelope Party, I do not mean it just as a Hollywood-worthy novel to be adapted into a film. Ms. Brooks’s story of…

Review: 'The Antelope Party' is a literary achievement

When I say that I was moved by Elizabeth Brooks’s novel The Antelope Party, I do not mean it just as a Hollywood-worthy novel to be adapted into a film.

Ms. Brooks’s story of 10-year-old Peggy, who rises from the neck of her crocodile-filled lake bed to rescue her friends, is a plot-driven feat of taut screenplay prose. (“The water glistened like something out of a sci-fi novel. An oil nugget from a great aquifer” is one typical line.) To use another Hollywood-worthy word, her characters are rich with true story. Yet even when the plot speeds along at high velocity, Ms. Brooks’s grace with language stays high. The characters are full of surprising nuances that will surprise us and delight us, and the novel is never short on surprises.

When Ms. Brooks’s young heroine, Peggy, returns home from a summer camp with friends to the house in woods where she grew up with her mother, her brother and mother’s new husband, the First Born arrives fully formed, as she were. But as an adult she begins to question the accuracy of her childhood stories about her younger self — and the true nature of her memory. The characterization of her mother becomes richer in light of Peggy’s recollections and the conversations they inspire:

“Sis,” we all called her, “the oldest, the fattest and the brightest. Not when I was younger.” But now she had the best memory. We all had the best memories. But she had the best memory.

As the camp begins to wind down, Peggy discovers that she is the reason the summer camp was necessary. It is her fault her mother has made a big mistake and settled down in England. “Do you even know how I felt about it?” Peggy’s mother asks her. “And would you still have it if not for you?” “Why would I want it any other way?”

Ms. Brooks does not even once resort to the liberal use of crutches to help explain Peggy’s lost innocence. Her characters are too intelligent to allow themselves to succumb to any of these things. They are smart enough to realize that they are telling truth, when it is told to them.

Above all, the one thing Peggy is not smart enough to understand is that she is old. And older people need — yet must be permitted to dream the nightmares that have caused their partners to often reject them, and that have propelled women to their places in the world.

She senses that her mother is tired, that she has had enough. At the same time, she craves to keep their story as she always knew it. “My mother said they were just friends,” Peggy says at one point. “My mother will talk about us endlessly, but just for a moment you thought you heard something strange.”

When it is suggested to Peggy that she find someone who will open up to her because her mother has nothing to talk about, Peggy cannot fully understand. She does not hear the voice in her head saying, “I want to hear something. I want my mother to tell me the story of what happened because when I hear the story I understand everything.” It is too late. But at least Peggy can hear her mother’s voice. This voice will always remain with her.

Follow Stories Like This Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.

If you enjoy an accomplished novel that the characters, and we, become invested in, The Antelope Party is for you. The one drawback to its success is that by the time the final pages appear, the reader is ready to, and will gladly, return to a very different book.

I was not ready for The Antelope Party. But I was ready to return to a different book.

Leave a Comment