Rowe’s debut novel examines the splintering of a family in rural Australia.
The novel begins on New Year’s Eve 1990. Evelyn and Jack have two daughters: Lani and Ruby, known as Ru. Jack’s brother, the girls’ Uncle Tetch, has started “turning up in the garage” to clean it up and try to fix things. It is quickly clear, however, that there is much that is broken. Jack, a Vietnam veteran, lives in a world torn open by the horrors of war. His mind “is a ghost trap. It’s all he can do to open his mouth without letting them all howl out.” Jack’s trauma becomes his family’s first major tragedy; he abuses Ev until he leaves one day, probably for good. The chapters each follow a different character with a different sadness in his or her past. This roving narration provides hauntingly intimate accounts, and the poetic style throughout makes each voice compelling and distinct. And yet, the same current of tragedy courses through all of them, leading an adult Ru to wonder, “Are all family scripts so interchangeable?” Ru’s two chapters, bookending the novel, are told in an urgent second person so that, in effect, she is absent from her own story. Eclipsed by those she cannot help but still love, Ru is also the novel’s true protagonist, a heartbreaking and memorable hero. The readers are made to empathize fully with her as, in the second person, she is also us: “You wonder when your real life will start,” she tells us. “You wonder what good all your being good has amounted to.”
A rich, kaleidoscopic depiction of inherited trauma in stunning prose.