Everything but the kitchen sink
THERE’S a standard plot that appears with frequency in Australian literature, one that usually gets on my nerves. It is: single parent (often female but not always) struggling to raise kids on her/his own against the odds on a remote sheep station/farm/crumbling rural property.
I knew there was a problem of narrative oversaturation when my largely non-reading partner successfully predicted the exact plot of a recent novel competition as such.
That is not to say this is an awful premise, and I imagine it rings true for many. As a reader I have simply reached my limit regarding kitchen sink Aussie battler drama.
Or so I thought. P.A. O’reilly’s latest novel is a refreshing reminder that there is life in this premise yet, if approached with humour and grace, though perhaps a line should be drawn under The Fine Colour of Rust as the pinnacle of the genre.
Can anyone write the story of a whirligig single mother gamely and hilariously fighting development of her small town better than Paddy O’reilly? No, and nor should they try.
That the novel, her second after The Factory (2005) is being published in Britain and the US later this year is a clear indication that O’reilly is a significant Australian talent all readers should be aware of.
Reilly, here lurking behind the genderneutral moniker of P.A., has proven to be one of our best short story writers of recent years, with her 2007 collection The End of the World a particular delight for the senses.
She brings those skills to this novel in creating the vivid world of Gunapan, a small country Victorian town that feels like some Mad Max outpost of civilisation clinging on to its existence. The primary school is threatened with closure, the scant water reserves are threatened by developers looking to establish yuppie getaways and eligible bachelors are thin on the ground.
In the midst of this is Loretta, a frazzled but determined single mother to Melissa and Jake. Despite limited resources, Loretta wrangles and cajoles her way through the community, stepping on toes aplenty as she tries to preserve what’s left of her town. Her neighbour Norm, a widower whose property sprawls with junk, is an irascible comrade-inarms. He would be perfect for Loretta were it not for an unbridgeable age gap. They make