Go jumpin’ in this book, gonna get yo’ boots muddy. Ain’t no warming up. Git your ear in. Ma’s gone wearin’ her gator shoes. It’s a sho’-nuff mess.
In Where the Crawdad Sings, Owens transports you with a splash straight into the marsh on the Carolina coast where nature rules and life is determined by instinct and genetics. If you observe the marsh closely, the patterns of the fireflies and rituals of the preying mantis, we’re not so different to the critters.
In a dysfunctional family, Tara McClusky grows up isolated. There is no other kid in school who has to spoon feed and change her father, work in a retirement home to help pay the basics and tip-toe around a mother who seems to have no instinct to mother. Her mum works nights, so they cross paths without ever really communicating, in a perfunctory routine. “‘How was school?’ ‘Okay.’ We’ve got this pseudo-Mass thing going on, where Mum chants through her litany and I respond with practised care. It doesn’t pay to go off-script.” There are no hugs or comfort. Tara’s older sister has died after being sent away to family in Ireland to sort herself out. She had gone wild: promiscuous and druggy. But she was always a tower of love to Tara and now she has gone.
“Taukiri and I drove here in Tom Aiken’s truck. We borrowed it to move all my stuff. Tom Aiken helped. Uncle Stu didn’t. This was my home now.”
Brave words from an orphaned boy dropped with remote, dysfunctional whanau. He watches his brother drive away. He says he’ll come back as soon as he can, but we wait with Ārama as the story unfolds and Becky Manawatu breaks our hearts. “Uncle Stu made people doubt they existed, and when you doubted you existed long enough, you started to disappear.” But even this lost little boy finds friendship with Tom Aiken’s sassy daughter (as good a depiction of kids’ friendship as you’ll find in any classic) and comfort with the dog, Lupo, until Uncle Stu fucks that up, too. Uncle Stu does a lot of fucking up. And he’s just the start.
I went sailing for the first time in about 30 years this time last year when I signed on for an “Adult Coastal” with the Spirit of Adventure Trust. This is different to a Spirit of Adventure experience for youth trainees, with its programme of empowering activities and challenges. On an Adult Coastal the ship needs to be moved to a new location, and berths are offered to adults keen to help, learn and experience life at sea.
I did all three of these things and it was wonderful. We sailed from Dunedin to Nelson and I sweat-and-tailed, learnt the difference between bunts and clews and stood watch off the coast of Kaikoura under the stars, listening to the night wind blowing over a dark sea. Continue reading “When the Spirit’s on the Sea”
If you’re a kiwi and you go to the beach, here’s a tip: read this story and learn about spear fishing. I had no idea it was a thing. I thought fishing at sea involved sitting passively for hours on a boat until a tug on the line left you dealing with whatever Neptune sent you. But a “spearo” goes beneath the surface, free diving, and gets to know the fish in their own environment. This is not someone sitting comfortably on a boat having a random tug of war with some poor fish they may not even want. A spearo goes out to get dinner. Continue reading “Spearo – book review”
The portrait of the girl in the red coat is of Maeve, and this is her story.
We come at this fact obliquely, as the narrator is Danny, her much younger brother.
I love this painting, presented on the cover of the book. I referred back to it many times as I read to bring Maeve into the room with me. She looks a damn good kid, but with a bit of spirit. Sharp. Initially, the painter is brought to the Dutch House to paint Maeve’s mother, who decides she is having none of it. So Maeve stares out at the painter throughout several long sittings, a little bit in love with him, but she keeps to her seat, steady and calm, the still focus of the house while things go on around her.
Here are some books that I have recently read and enjoyed to some degree. Others will have loved them. They miss the cut of my recommended books because something is lacking: elegant writing, spirit, a character to love or simply they don’t add up. Or they may be just too weird for your regular group of bookies. If you see a book you love here, please tell me what I missed.
Lost Roses, by Martha Jane Kelly
Once again, I fine myself applauding Martha Jane Kelly for her research and her passion and railing against a poorly edited book (can’t believe I just said that. Who am I to criticise Penguin? And yet, here I go.) This could have been a great read. It has all the elements: a fascinating period in history with the Bolsheviks being bolshy and the White Russians fleeing their palaces. A cliffhanger at every chapter end. There are interesting characters with some power to change their lives and a workable plot line. But there are easily fixed flaws that spoilt the read for me. Just me, perhaps, so don’t worry, Penguin. You’ve got a million other readers for this. Continue reading “Books that don’t make the cut”