All I Have in this World
by Michael Parker
Algonquin Books, 321 pp., $14.95
Michael Parker’s sixth novel, All I Have in This World, introduces two strangers whose lives intersect by chance at a used car lot in West Texas.
The story comes together in the desolate ranch community of Pinto Canyon Texas, when Marcus, a middle-age man, arrives at Fantastic Deals!, your greasy, second-hand establishment, looking for wheels that will send him on his way to Mexico. A woman, Maria, approaches and their shared desire for a baby blue boat-like 1984 Buick Electra, leads to a most unlikely partnership.
The unique and regrettable pasts of these two characters bring each to their own crossroads where they face the challenges of moving forward. The complexity of Parker’s characters creates a dynamic only achieved by those writers who know their characters inside and out. The delivery of his prose speaks to the multitude of ways in which we as humans view the world and understand the events that unfold in front of us.
The culmination of Marcus’ botched life endeavors is the seizure of his family’s farm, which sits on acres of North Carolina swampland. In his final attempt to make something for himself he goes all in on his obsession with the Venus Fly Trap. Marcus begins harvesting the plant-like creatures and eventually opens a museum dedicated to their mystique. As one would expect, the revenue doesn’t come, and the secret gamble he takes risking the estate with a property loan, backfires.
Maria is back home after a long hiatus hopping around the West Coast where she drifted with little purpose while trying to leave her former life behind. She remains haunted by the image of finding her high school sweetheart dead after he succumbs to suicide in reaction to her decision to abort their unexpected baby. No matter how much time elapses, the weight of her decision and the consequences that followed are a constant presence in her life. This return home; however, provides the opportunity for her to finally reconcile the deep-seeded emotions consuming her since her late teens.
While the circumstances surrounding the plot, at times, seem improbable, Parker’s characters have an aura that readers cannot help but embrace. There are instances, such as their original meeting, that would generally raise a particular level of skepticism, though the way Parker manages the totality of the work allows readers to go on this journey without much questioning.
At the heart of this story is the universal question everyone wrestles with at some point: In what direction is my life headed? Parker provides a refreshing perspective on what it means to ask these larger questions, and his characters are indicative of how these answers are not always mapped out for us.
“Go straight,” and her brother taunted her, saying, “You mean forward, dummy, not straight.” Her life had been straight but not forward. A path with no forks, but she stood in it more than traveled up or down it. She’d never thought a difference between straight and forward until her smart-alecky brother claimed there was one (239-40).
From the onset, despite their unique situations, each of our characters is in desperate need to resolve the pain within themselves. Like the rest of us, they have been quick to dismiss or evade these issues, and must find a way to come to terms with the unforgiving world that they are confronted with. Their encounters emulate our nature to yearn for the things that seem out of grasp and, as a result, to be human.