Two kinds of absences
lines. Towards the end, when the loose ends are (too) neatly gathered up and all is revealed like some cosy drawing-room mystery denouement, Fairlie “feels like she’s wandered on to the set of a soap opera”. The reader too, may feel the book has veered perilously close to melodrama, with too many unlikely coincidences.
It’s a book crowded with social issues, including dysfunctional and damaged families, mixraced adoption, postnatal depression, rape and emotional abuse. Set in Penola, between Adelaide and Mt Gambier, Lock’s story is subject to the usual gossipy parameters of small-town mentality and is essentially a tale of secrets and lies (kept and told by everyone).
Like I Can Love begins with the discovery of a corpse; Olga Lorenzo’s second novel, The Light on the Water, is characterised by the lack of a body. When Anne Baxter takes her six-year-old daughter on what was supposed to be an overnight bushwalk expedition in Wilsons Promontory (an expanse of wilderness in Victoria’s Gippsland region), she soon rues the day when Aida is exposed to “the dull white heat”, because the little girl doesn’t return home. The mystery of what happened to Aida is, however, subservient to the more prosaic details of how Anne copes with her absence.
That her daughter is autistic adds an element of intrigue to the story, as others wonder why Anne would even consider trekking with a child with special needs. But Anne is recently divorced and perhaps not thinking clearly, with the desire for momentary escape taking precedence over pragmatic considerations.
Despite only circumstantial evidence, Anne is charged with her daughter’s murder nearly two years after Aida’s disappearance. While she is on bail and awaiting trial, the book charts her struggle with being prematurely condemned. As the scarlet ribbon of gossip runs through the neighbourhood, Anne finds herself besieged by the unkindness of strangers. The numerous everyday tasks that seem to overwhelm her — such as grocery shopping at odd hours to avoid accusatory stares and, rather ominously, failing to keep some of her aquarium fish alive — mean that any spiky developments surrounding