Parts Unknown

by Kevin Brennan

Actions have consequences. This is an elementary truism, but one
that is often forgotten during the course of occurrence of mundane
events. This fundamental, immutable law is the basis for PARTS
UNKNOWN, the debut novel by Kevin Brennan, a tale that succeeds so
well across all strata of criteria that the reader is both
comforted and haunted by it long after the final words of it are

PARTS UNKNOWN begins with the words of Nora, the wife of Bill
Argus. As a young man in his 20s, Argus abandoned without warning
his wife Annie and their toddler son Hayes, moving to the
California desert and living with hermit-like simplicity while,
over the following decades, acquiring notoriety as a kind of Ansel
Adams. In his 60s, Argus finds himself slowly coming to realize the
need to see those who he had left behind so abruptly. Nora, some 20
years his junior, supports him in this journey with a gentleness
and subtle bemusement that makes it impossible to not fall in love
with her within the first few pages. While the tale of Argus'
eventual homecoming is told through Nora's eye and voice, hers is
not the only viewpoint revealed. PARTS UNKNOWN jumps back and forth
in time and space, so we learn of Argus as a young man, his
parents, Annie's family and, of course, Hayes. But this story is as
much Nora's as that of Argus's.

Nora's father abandoned her and her mother, as well, when Nora was
a toddler; the resultant attraction for Nora to Argus is obvious,
subtly noted though not fully explored. But then again, it doesn't
need to be. As the multiple intergenerational accounts are gently
presented and the tale gradually but inexorably proceeds to the
reunion of Argus, a senile Annie and an innocently unaware Hayes,
one is reminded of some of the best work of John Steinbeck and, to
a lesser extent, that of Cormac McCarthy. The consequences of
Argus's departure and return are as quietly intense as anything you
will read this year.

PARTS UNKNOWN is a complex tale, beautifully and simply related,
which saves the appearance of some of its most interesting
characters for the close of the book. Though it begs for a sequel
detailing Nora's own reunion with her long-absent father, it is
complete in itself. This is a tale that anyone, of any
circumstance, can take to heart and call their own.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Parts Unknown
by Kevin Brennan

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060012765
  • ISBN-13: 9780060012762