Book Review: Lori Ostlund’s After the Parade

Author Lori OstlundAs an award-winning short story writer (The Bigness of the World: Stories), Lori Ostlund has explored the lives of people escaping from situations at home, to venture out into a world they find is just as complicated and troubled as the one they left behind. In her debut novel, After the Parade, she continues a slow revelation about how no matter where you settle in the world, where you came from is never far away.

In the tragicomic spirit of John Irving, Ostlund’s open-hearted contemplation of how we grow up and move on is written with wit and bursting with vitality. Protagonist Aaron Englund is in search of a new life in San Francisco. But before he can begin his new life, he must leave his old one with Walter, his partner of twenty years. He does so by driving away in the dark of night — the same way Aaron’s mother abandoned him years earlier. Aaron’s life is divided in a series of befores and afters.

After Aaron’s father dies in a freak accident during a town parade, and after Aaron’s mother leaves him at the age of seventeen, the changes in his life are drastic. As Aaron settles into his new life in San Francisco, it becomes clear that until he has closure, he will not be able to move forward. When Aaron is expectantly given his mother’s address, he must decide if the pain of dredging up his past is worth the chance at a happier future. What follows is a stunning meditation on the ways the past shapes us, and how we cannot move forward without first looking back.

Ostlund’s open-hearted contemplation of how we grow up and move on is written with wit and bursting with vitality.

After the Parade by Lori OstlundAs a Common Read selection, Ostlund’s After the Parade has much to offer.

  • After the Parade is beautifully written and will appeal to both young readers, and those who have been around the block a few times.
  • The LGBTQ community will appreciate a strong gay protagonist in a book that is not about being gay.
  • Language and the underpinnings of how we communicate is explored in a way that will prompt vigorous conversations about the words we choose, and that they mean.
  • Among the many teachable moments, readers will find issues relating to coming of age, rising out of family dysfunction, dealing with mental illness and depression, and coping with grief.

Now out in paperback, this might be the perfect time to schedule Lori for an author event. After the Parade has been on dozens of Best-Of lists, including NPR’s list of Best Books, Barnes and Noble’s Great Emerging Writers, and Buzzfeed’s 24 Best Literary Debuts. As a teacher, she knows how to command an audience and brings personality and grace to every presentation.  After the Parade has been a BIC staff favorite this year!

Lori Ostlund’s wonderful novel After the Parade should come with a set of instructions: Be perfectly still. Listen carefully. Peer beneath every placid surface. Be alive to the possibility of wonder.

— RICHARD RUSSO, author of the Pulitzer-winning novel Empire Falls


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