The cover of this novel almost tries to warn you off with its bleeding grey pinks. Any millennial trying to express themselves through the last available port, fashion, should chain a copy of A Keeper of Sheep around their neck.
Carpenter’s novel is a must read for anyone who wholeheartedly classifies themselves as an anything-‘ist’ (veganist, communist, cyclist). We must begin with Penguin, who hated Penny, which was short for Penelope, which is her real name. Penguin, is, if John Green had anything to do with it, a manic pixie dream girl. A feminist,
“maybe it was just that as a female I’d been shielded all my life from that level of macho hermeneutics, so I was not trained to understand. Prick up your ears”
who smooshes angry instructions for her parents on their bathroom mirror, “DIVORCE”, in the newest Yves Saint Laurent red lipstick. Then there is some sort of issue with burning down a frat house in response to rape claims, eventuating in poor old Penguin being shipped off to Cape Cod. Enter rest of novel (as not detailed on goodreads.com). Imagine the Last Song, and then make it a book, and then make it everything that a good book is. That is where Carpenter takes you.
Carpenter’s success with this novel arguably derives from his success as an award-winning poet. Carpenter’s narrative is finely orchestrated and deliberately executed, which results in stirring realisations in both his protagonist and his readers; that maybe the reason people treat you like a cow is not because they misunderstand you, but because you are acting like a self-entitled, annoying cow. What drives this novel’s success as a bildungsroman is Carpenter’s inescapable use of irony, friendly scathe and wit. He masterfully employs the poet’s ability to show you what to hear, and tell you what to see.
“Richard and Dorothy were still in the romantic phase … The worst of what people did to each other were the deceptions, because when you love someone you control their version of reality, and if you lie to them, that’s like making them autistic, so what they think is the truth is not their true situation at all. I lied from time to time myself, so I knew what that kind of control was about.”
A Keeper of Sheep brilliantly understands the naivety of a 20-something year old. Old enough to know stuff, but not old enough to experience or understand it. Carpenter, most importantly, captures the taste of the events that push 20-something year olds to develop a dark, dry and occasionally bored sense of humour. A Keeper of Sheep ultimately praises the damage and abandonment that turns us into fully fledged adults.