Sutherland’s (Windsong, 2008) contemporary novel takes readers to the small, fictional Australian town of Trundle, offering a peek at the lives of its residents over the course of a year.
Grown sisters Ronnie and Marie have returned to their family home in Trundle, each of them recovering from a personal heartbreak. They’re not sure what to make of their troublesome neighbors, the Lals, who have built a large, modern house next door. The sisters and the Lals are at the core of the story, but Sutherland expertly weaves the lives of various residents into a rich tapestry. Trundle possesses many elements found in any small town: mom-and-pop shops, a struggling economy and a colorful cast of characters. What sets it apart from other towns is a place called Pelican, a commune founded in the 1980s on the outskirts of town. Marie, a former resident who left Pelican under a cloud of disgrace, returns to find she is welcome in the community; burned out from work, Ronnie finds herself restored by her stay there. Meanwhile, the grieving Mr. Lal sees Pelican as the perfect spot to build his own version of the Taj Mahal in tribute to his deceased wife, and his son, Vijay, struggles to find himself and the meaning of life. The story shifts perspective, often jumping among the central protagonists and various Trundle figures, giving readers an intimate view of the town. But well-defined, realistically drawn characters enable readers to easily follow these shifts in perspective. In spite of occasional scandals and disturbing events, Sutherland’s novel is, at heart, a quiet story of ordinary people dealing with everyday problems. Her graceful descriptions—“Through the open window flowed a deep and restful stillness punctuated by the chime of birds and the tolling of frogs”—bring to life both the landscape and the people who inhabit it.
An enjoyable, eloquently told tale.