Peter Rock

What is it about Portland? For the first half of Peter Rock’s fifth novel, My Abandonment (Houghton Mifflin, $22), I felt like I was reading a prologue to Kelly Reichardt’s acclaimed film Wendy and Lucy. That 2008 movie, like Rock’s new book, is set among the homeless down-and-outs you might find sleeping in their cars, or in a city park. They’re both tales from the New Recession, whose heroines lack proper ID or a fixed address. Both shun the law, but for different reasons. But while Michelle Williams played an older, somewhat savvier woman on screen, My Abandonment—already optioned as a movie—is narrated mostly by a girl of 13. Rock bases her account partly on a real family, father and daughter, discovered five years ago in Portland’s Forest Park. (Later in the book, there are traces of other news headlines.) Bookish and curious, Caroline at first appears to be living in a kind of natural idyll—like a wood sprite who wanders barefoot, climbs trees, and grows her own vegetables. She only ventures into downtown Portland with care and deception, disguising herself and her identity, at the behest of her strict guardian. Yet as the novel loops back in time, this seemingly resourceful girl is shown to be just as vulnerable as Wendy. BRIAN MILLER

Fri., April 3, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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