Alison’s Picks – March 2020

 

 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Danny Conroy and his sister Maeve grow up in an opulent house in small-town Pennsylvania. This house becomes a powerful symbol for everyone connected with it. Because I enjoy fiction that tells me how people interact, and the truths they aren’t able to acknowledge, I was intrigued by the lines of relationship Patchett drew between the various characters, showing the complex dynamics. But the tone… I baulked. There was a flatness to it, an absence of light and shade, of emotional colour. The voice felt truthful, clear but slightly brittle. Her observations were insightful but not compassionate. I compare her to, say, Wallace Stegner in Crossing to Safety; or Murray Bail in Eucalyptus. There is red blood flowing in the veins of these books – not so through The Dutch House. Presumably Patchett adopted this flatness of tone to echo the emotional poverty in the main characters here. Traumatic events led to an inability to grow and prosper. And there is more than a nod to materialism and the American Dream.

[The Dutch House is also available on BorrowBox]

 

Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany.  Her other novels – Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living and Mateship with Birds – won awards, and charmed and fascinated this reader.  This one, however, is a different animal; no less well-written, but the subject matter is grim. It was only Tiffany’s assured prose that got me through to the end. The central character is a young girl, living with her mother, brother and stepfather. Her complete alienation from this family is obvious from the start. The stepfather is a car mechanic, and the girl is skilled and knowledgeable with car engines too, so much so that she knows exactly how to sabotage mechanical work the father has done on cars that come to his workshop to be repaired. Gradually we are given clues as to why this girl (never named) is full of destructive energy. You can probably guess. Helen Garner’s comment on the cover is: Superbly controlled, like dark, secret music rising from an abyss. Amen to that.

 

 

 

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