A writer goes searching for vanished Australian communities in this dark allegorical debut.
The (fittingly) nameless narrator of this novel has a notion to write a book about the “disappearing towns of the Central West of New South Wales,” so he arrives in a (fittingly) nameless community to conduct his research. But what’s to investigate? Commerce seems restricted to a Woolworths and a bar nobody patronizes; the annual community get-together always degrades into fisticuffs; Ciara, the DJ at the local radio station whom he befriends, suspects nobody is tuning in; and the librarian has no history to point to. In some ways the novel can be read as a kind of lament for a disappearing sense of community and willful ignorance of the past; the nameless town is what you get when you have an infrastructure (homes, roads, train lines) but no sense of a social contract. But the narrator’s (and Prescott’s) affect is so cool that it resists characterization as a critique or satire; the novel at times recalls the slacker-lit of Douglas Coupland, all emotional blankness and deep skepticism about humanity. The novel gets something of a lift in its latter portions as the narrator’s friendship with Ciara deepens (though, pointedly, the relationship remains platonic) as they try to find out who’s sending cassettes of eerie music to the station. And when seemingly bottomless holes begin appearing in town, the novel acquires a kind of deadpan comedy as the town begins to swallow up its own: “Then [the holes] started to consume furniture, and thoroughfares, and places where people might sometimes want to stand.” It’s no small feat to conjure up a town in fiction solely through what it lacks, but the place is hard to settle into, as a metaphor or anything else.
A conceptually ingenious if chilly dystopian yarn.