Spanning World War II to 9/11, Australian novelist Jordan delivers a witty and wise family saga.
The novel begins in 1939 with Kip Westaway, a 15-year-old resident of a working-class Melbourne suburb. His father has recently died (having fallen, drunk, off a trolley car); they’ve had to take in a boarder; Kip has quit school to do odd jobs for the furniture shop next door. Kip goes about his day: a scolding from his sour mother, Jean, the usual jousting with his twin brother, Francis, a bloody knee thanks to the neighborhood hoodlums, comfort from his beloved older sister Connie, a brief chat with the most beautiful girl in Melbourne, the gift of a shilling from his kindhearted employer, Mr. Hustings—inconsequential events that begin to resonate with each ensuing chapter. Sixty years later, we find Kip’s daughter Stanzi in her office, preparing to frame her dad’s lucky shilling, until it disappears; perhaps her kleptomaniac client is to blame. This is followed by Jack’s story: The only son of Mr. Hustings, Jack has just returned from a rural sheep station and is at a crossroads: He wants to go back to the country but feels the pressure to enlist and fight the Nazis, then he sees Connie from his bedroom window and can think of nothing else. Skipping back and forth in time, from one character to another, Jordan builds a gorgeously layered story examining the innocent choices that shape a life, a family: the failures of favored son Francis, Kip’s grandson Alec’s fateful discovery, his mother Charlotte’s unplanned pregnancy, Jean’s heartbreaking maternal advice. Jordan closes the novel with Connie’s chapter. By now, everyone’s fate is known, but the love story between Connie and Jack—inspired by the novel's cover, a striking archival photo of a woman being hoisted up to a train window to kiss a departing soldier—is so romantically tragic, it feels that the story’s really been about them all along.
A small treasure, from the author of the wonderful romantic comedy Addition (2009).