The past makes its pres­ence felt … at home

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

A story by Josephine Rowe pub­lished some years ago be­gins: “When I write of a house now, it is only ever the one house: its smell of smoke and old wood, foxed books, dried blue gum ripped lazily from the over­grown yard.” The story ends: “It’s only ever the one house, but it’s shift­ing, un­map­pable, and I can never get far enough away to see the whole of it.”

If you had the idea that you might read this as a key to un­lock­ing the se­crets of Rowe’s lumi- nous, al­lu­sive prose, you would of­ten find the locks weren’t budg­ing. But this 171-word story is hard to keep out of mind when read­ing A Lov­ing, Faith­ful An­i­mal, Rowe’s first novel, fol­low­ing four books of po­etry and prose. Both are about the power of the past to fill more than its share of the tiny room we call the present. The fur­ther in time we move from the trauma of his­tory, the bet­ter we see that the past casts a long shadow. And in this novel, about the Viet­nam War’s ef­fects on the Aus­tralian fam­ily, the shad­ows don’t suf­fuse the home; they con­sti­tute it.

We first tour this spe­cific home through the eyes of Ru, a girl on the verge of ado­les­cence. Her town, off the Hume High­way, is in deep bush­fire coun­try, but for Ru it’s a pre-teen to­pog­ra­phy of ci­cada husks and so­cial anx­i­ety. The fam­ily dog has re­cently been mur­dered by one of those mys­te­ri­ous crea­tures that oc­ca­sion­ally emerge from the Aus­tralian psy­che to prowl the sur­round­ing bush­land. In this case, it ap­pears to be a pan­ther very like the one Ru’s father, Jack, has tat­tooed on his bi­cep.

Ru, and less so, Lani, her re­bel­lious older sis­ter, fail to un­der­stand why their mother Eve­lyn con­tin­ues to chase Jack when he dis­ap­pears into this room­ing house or that seedy south­side sub­urb: “It’s so em­bar­rass­ing,” com­plains Lani, “he’s just go­ing to belt her around again.”

Eve­lyn ap­pears to spend her life ac­quir­ing slow, on­go­ing dam­age in the ser­vice of the very per­son who wounds her. But in a novel built on the par­tic­u­lar, and the in­te­rior, Eve­lyn en­cap­su­lates both the keen­est moral prob­lems and the most per­sua­sive psy­cho­log­i­cal study. We all know we are ca­pa­ble of re­ceiv­ing harm, for many rea­sons. But when you are not cur­rently in that state it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how you’d get there, much less the rea­son you’d stay.

Rowe’s stealth-topic is “the in­her­i­tance of lived ex­pe­ri­ence”: ge­netic mem­ory, and trauma’s power to cross gen­er­a­tions. Yet Eve­lyn’s story asks the reader to view love it­self as un­usu­ally mul­ti­fac­eted, and sim­i­larly per­ni­cious. Can what she does “be called pa­tience, or plain id­iocy, or did love leave room enough for both?” The cor­rect an­swer feels both ur­gent and elu­sive, and the ques­tion re­mains trou­bling long af­ter the book is closed.

Eve­lyn also packs a wicked sense of hu­mour; she thinks the Kakadu Gorge is funny be­cause

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.