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North Morgan’s second novel, Highlights Of My Last Regret, tells the story of dysfunctional Parke Hudson (the son of Maine Hudson, recognisable as the protagonist of Exit Through The Wound) and his girlfriend, Ryan. Their relationship is played out against the backdrop of a socially hungry Los Angeles, grossly amplified by Parke’s own skewed, damaged perception. From parties in LA, to Coachella, to summer in San Francisco, the bored, rich anti-hero Parke wrestles in his relationship with the essentially good, but paranoid and needy Ryan.
The reader is left to judge for himself whether the two are a good match. The coldly amusing, sociopathic Parke, who works for tech company Neon Sphere even though he lives off his trust fund, hardly seems suited to the self-worthy Ryan, originally from Albuquerque and climbing her way up the greasy pole. The two see themselves as opposites, yet they are often as much trouble as each other. They skip from one argument to the next, watched by Parke’s friend the perpetually stoned Markus, and a variety of two dimensional socialites.
A summer spent away from Ryan in San Francisco with his alcoholic, unpredictable mother changes things for Parke. His mother, suggested to us as the source of all his maladjustment, finally deals him an emotional blow that he cannot overcome, and Parke decides that he wants to be rid of Ryan once and for all. In typical style, Parke suggests a plan that even the hopeless Markus recognises as characteristically cruel:
“I’m safer suggesting a break. Then I can sneak away quietly and never talk to her again while she’s not paying attention.”
‘That seems like the Parke Hudson way”
Finally, it is Ryan that calls it a day, and Parke regrets it almost immediately. When they reunite back in LA, however, it is the same old story of discontent, until Parke must eventually own up to the character that he has played all along, and the terrible consequences it has brought him.
The novel is a kind of ‘Bildungsroman’, detailing Parke’s psychological journey through the lens of his relationship. He travels from quiet indifference, to reckless manipulation, finally arriving at a feeling which might be described as regret. It is, of course, difficult to put a finger on – Parke only comes near approximations of what might be called ‘normal feeling’. He maintains a curiously flat treatment of incidents and emotions, to the point where he often just observes:
Despite having practically cut [my father] out of her life, mom felt it was the right choice to pass his last name on to me when I was born… This type of psychological self-harm on her part must be how all people with mental issues behave.
It is unclear the point to which Parke recognises himself in this observation. On the one hand, there is a wry, knowing bitterness to his tone which speaks volumes for a self-recognition not often seen. On the other, he is so detached from normality that it is possible he doesn’t see any of himself in this statement. The reader is often unsure who knows more – himself or the maniacal, yet witty, intelligent, and somehow likeable Parke.
This sensitive and consistent handling of the voice of a man who is only just sane renders Morgan’s prose wickedly captivating; this is a novel worth reading for its complex tone perhaps more so than for its plot. Highlights is a masterful follow-up to Exit, in its telling of a seemingly unremarkable story that somehow clings to its reader long after the last page is read.