Aberrations by Penelope Przekop traces a pivotal period in the life of Angel Duet, a narcoleptic twenty-one-year old with an extremely dysfunctional family and a non-existent social life. Enter Tim and Kimmy, Angel’s co-workers with their own oddities, who together propel Angel into a new and confusing world that changes her outlook forever and for good.
I didn’t know much about narcolepsy on starting this book and I was surprised by how deteriorating and upsetting it can be. No one seems to understand Angel’s condition and her desire to escape it is so great that she turns to drugs as a refuge. The illness drives people away from her and causes them to think that she is lazy, stupid, or retarded, when really she is a clever girl who longs to be normal. I really felt for Angel throughout the book and I wanted her to get that normal life, or at least a semblence of it. Her search for family, particularly mother, was extremely moving. The book also deals with the side issue of homosexuality in the 1980’s South – Tim is gay, as are two of his cousins. We get an interesting glimpse into their underworld as well as their struggle with “ordinary” people who attempt to suppress all that is different.
Another thing this book handles well is relationships. Angel has few relationships at the start of the book – her adulterous liason with Mac, a married doctor, and her confused relationship with her father. She develops friendships with Kimmy and Tim, sexual relations with one of Tim’s cousins, and her relationships with her father and especially his girlfriend Carla progress in believable ways.
For a short book, under 300 pages, this book packs in a lot! I really enjoyed it and I found myself deeply involved in the characters’ lives. Przekop brings up many sensitive issues, but in a way that causes the reader to think and consider them in a new light. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to read a deeply affecting, well-written, engrossing novel.
Q. Why narcolepsy? The characters each had their own flaws and I was wondering why narcolepsy was your focus, rather than, say, sexual orientation.
A. A focus on sexual orientation as opposed to narcolepsy would have resulted in quite a different book, I think. They are both important topics that many people have trouble relating to; however, when planning the book, my initial interest in narcolepsy led me to focus on it due to its unique metaphorical capabilities. Lots of books have been written about sexual orientation. Perhaps the BIG one that breaks a glass ceiling and remaining barriers has yet to be written, which is certainly an interesting challenge. It just seemed to me that the time was ripe for narcolepsy and I felt compelled to tackle it. Narcolepsy continues to be commonly used as comedic relief. I suspected that it wasn’t actually funny for those who suffered from it, and thought it might be rewarding to tell their story. I do think there are a lot of similarities between how Angel and Tim felt, which also speaks to the universal emotions we all have regarding whatever it is we must deal with as individuals. When other people fail to understand us, or when we fail to embrace ourselves, it touches a common place. I hope readers will take that away from the novel, and that it will making a lasting positive impression.
Q. Your characters seem as though I could meet them on the street tomorrow, particularly Angel. Do you ever draw them from people you know, or are they entirely products of your own imagination?
A. There is a bit of myself in each character that I create. Aside from that, I toss in bits and pieces of people I’ve known or currently know. Then on top of all that, I make things up. It’s like putting in all in a pot, swirling it around, (cooking it up) and then seeing what results once you’re ready to eat. Of course, I do this in the context of the overall point of the book. I create the types of characters that will propel the story I have in mind.
Q. Why did you choose to have the characters speak with Southern accents? I really appreciated this choice, by the way, because it helped a lot to keep me grounded in the setting.
A. Well, you would not believe how many times I went back and forth with this. I think I went through the entire book three or four times, adding it in and taking it out. I’m actually adding it back into my first, unpublished novel now. So I’m glad you liked it! I like it for the very reason you’ve noted. My goal was to include just a touch of it to help convey the setting. I think too much of that sort of thing can distract readers. When I’m writing, it also helps me to keep focused in that setting as well. It also has helped me write more realistic dialogue, I think, because having grown up in the South, it’s closer to how I actually speak. I conjure up conversations in my head and that’s how they comes out on paper. The new novel that I’m planning will likely have only one southern character so there will be much less of it.
Q. This may be a bit naive to ask, but did many places like The Blue Flower exist? Do you know of any real ones that I could research, just out of curiosity?
A. I did go to a similar place in Shreveport a couple of times when I was in college but it wasn’t called The Blue Flower. I can’t recall the name of it but part of my description was based on my experience there. I made up all the stuff about the flowers. Other than that, most of the places in the book are real places. The other clubs mentioned were real although I don’t know if they’re still open for business now. The Kon Tiki is still open in Shreveport. And of course, Louisiana State University in Shreveport is thriving.
Q. I’m not a doctor, but there was a lot in the book about Angel’s narcolepsy as well as about another character’s mental condition. Do you do much research before starting to write a novel, or only as you go along?
A. I did the majority of the research prior to writing the book. However, I continued to learn as much as I could as I was writing. I wanted to learn about narcolepsy from people who suffered from it rather than medical textbooks so I read a lot of Internet message boards. At the time, the Internet was just taking off so there wasn’t as much information available as there is now. I emailed with several college students who had narcolepsy to ask questions. One girl in particular read passages I wrote to tell me if they were realistic. That was extremely helpful.
Q. Betty Lou’s cloud photography is extremely important to the narrative and to Angel’s life. What would you say these clouds
symbolize for her?
A. They essentially symbolized mother to her. Mother found everywhere, if you think about it, because each cloud was shaped like something ordinary or familiar. And they were soft, beautiful, and overshadowing. Lastly, they were always there.
Q. And a purely personal interest question – are you working on another novel? I really enjoyed this one and I’d love to have another to look forward to!
A. Yes! I’m so excited about it and can’t wait to get further into it. Right now I’m doing a little editing on my first, unpublished novel currently titled, Jesus Wept. (Publishers often change titles.) If all goes well, Jesus Wept will be the next one on the shelves. Like Aberrations, it also includes numerous themes. It delves into the intense conflicts that can result from growing up in the Bible Belt while trying to relate to the tough realities of life. It’s not a religious novel but rather one that takes a realistic look at the complex role that fundamentalist religion, in particular, can play as we struggle to find a reality we can believe in and embrace as young adults–which is what we all go through in some form or another. So, my third novel is the brand new one that I’m currently planning. I don’t have a title yet but I’ve completed the majority of the research and will soon be at it full speed ahead. I don’t want to say too much about it since it’s in such an early stage. I can tell you that there will be a southern character in New York City, and it will compare and contrast current corporate politics with the ideals of Ellis Island while packing in numerous universal themes. I’m excited about blending my southern background and my own corporate experience to tackle this one.
Thanks so much, Penelope, for answering my questions, and thanks also to T.J. Dietderich for arranging this! For more information, see Penelope’s website and her blog. Aberrations comes out tomorrow, but you can buy this book from Amazon today!