Kevin Brennan

"Parts Unknown"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 9, 2003)

"My husband, Bill Argus, always said he took pictures just to catch the struggle between light and dark that was always in play, but it was obvious to me that he wanted to freeze moments in time....he couldn't hang onto his moments, or didn't want to, which was one reason he fled into the desert when he was still a young man...."

Parts Unknown by Kevin Brennan

Many years ago, Bill Argus left his life behind, the ranch he grew up on, his young wife and son and family, and ended up in the hard, cruel beauty of the desert. He would become a famous photographer, capturing scenes that speak of more than sand, bone and rock. These very pictures would draw Nora to him. Twenty-three years younger than he, they still find a peaceful companionship between them, even though she can draw parallels between his life, and the fact her own father abandoned her and her mother when she was a little girl. Almost forty years later, he decides that he has to return to the town of Pianto in Northern California to see his son, and to rediscover his memories, hoping that the reality of the place and people will help him figure out what is true and what is fabrication. This quest forces Nora to consider her own past.

Read excerptParts unknown...we can play with the title, and get a great deal of meaning from it. My first thought was, well, as in "he headed off for parts unknown," which Bill certainly did. Each chapter, save for the framing chapters told by Nora, are told by a different person. Sometimes a person will have a couple of chapters, but no more than that. Each chapter is its own short story, telling a fragment of the larger tale from their perspective. In this way, there are parts unknown to the other characters of the story that are only told to us. And, this book is very much about discovering the parts unknown in our own minds and souls, not just the stories we forget or reject, but also the unknown depths in our hearts.

The book is well written. The people here are all too human. Nora who, for a short time made money by performing oral sex, understands her own human weaknesses, even as she understood those of her mother, a bitter, Dorothy Parker wanna be who was more interested in the men in her life than the welfare of her daughter. Even though she could hate Bill for leaving his family like her father left her, she doesn't...she loves him, even forgives him for it, although he tells her its not her place to forgive. Brennan also takes time to explode that myth that so many people who abandon their families use to justify themselves: They're better off without me. When we get back to Bill's hometown, we see the truth of this in ex-wife Annie's tragic change, and in the quiet, resolved way his good-hearted son lives his life. There are a lot of small emotional pinches here and there; things that make the book feel very real. For instance, the theme of restlessness, and how it constantly spurred Bill, how he was always saying that he would leave. In an ironic twist, his own father, while discussing marriage with his wife-to-be echoes some of the words Bill says with near exactness.

Each separate, first person narrative is perfectly diverse, the personalities ringing true. If Nora's chapter was the next, for instance, I didn't have to see her name to know it was her.

An altogether worthy and serious effort to show the true natures inside all people, Parts Unknown will force you to consider the unknown in your own memories.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Parts Unknown at

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About the Author:

Kevin BrennanKevin Brennan has rung in the new year in Red Square, performed as a busker in the London Underground, wandered the California desert, and auditioned unsuccessfully for a chance at stardom on reality television. He lives in Petaluma, California, with his wife and surrogate children, Ned (a dog) and Nip (a cat). About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014