After the Parade
by Lori Ostlund
2015, Scribner/Simon & Schuster
The image of the parade in the book’s title seems profoundly significant, both in terms of the plot’s before and after this event, a demarcation in young Aaron Englund’s history, but it is also an apt symbol for an activity that must be watched from the sidelines. In many ways, Lori Ostlund’s narrator is primarily an observer, less of a participant or instigator in his own life. While this type of outsider, an almost passive character, can create an empty center in a book, in this case, the author encourages us to see Aaron and his world more acutely, to perceive the sensitivities he observes; to forego violent action, fast pace, and superficiality, qualities that have become the norm in much of contemporary fiction. Ostlund’s tale is haunting and subtle like snow falling against a winter white sky, yet there is drama and trauma throughout, pointing up the story and adding depth and poignancy and movement. The writing is fresh, frequently beautiful, with observations that are profound, sometimes wry, usually kind and gentle, reflecting Aaron’s personality: “He had always liked sleeping in cars, waking up in a different place. It was the closest he came to understanding the passage of time.” Or: “Once people thought they knew you, it was almost impossible to change yourself.” This is a character who notices that an old woman “on many nights…watched for him from her kitchen window and then hurried out with a jar she could not open.” This a man who cares about others, even strangers.
Although Aaron is gay, this is not a gay novel any more than a story about a straight narrator is a heterosexual work; instead, this is a human book, a unselfconsciously wrought bridge between the two orientations, constructed by the author with the assumption that we all live on an interconnected continuum, even if some us—like Aaron—feel a little lost and unmoored.
We need more books like After the Parade, which eschew labels and boundaries; books written for everyone rather than for a specific, narrow readership; books that challenge us to perceive more deeply, with greater depth. Aaron’s road to understanding himself, his history and relationships, is a multi-layered, complex story, yet one that is tightly woven, a moving parade worthy of applause.—Laury A. Egan, author of The Outcast Oracle