Loneliness and the family wrench in just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

 just-a-girl

Kirsten Krauth’s debut novel, just_a_girl, brings about complex discussions grown out of the many themes embedded in the book. From loneliness in a world where we connect more than ever, to conducting relationships and sexual identity within this environment. From the format of the book, that includes diary type chapters, to the chopping up of sentences within the diary entries.

Kirsten and I will be chatting about some of these themes in an interview that I’ll put up here soon, but I want to drop a couple of paragraphs here that are not so related to those themes, but are moments that many of us experience. Moments that go toward feeding our insecurities and making us who we are, that made me stop and think for a moment.

This is from fourteen year old Layla, thinking about trips to visit with her father:

I wish the oxygen masks would fall down from the ceiling so I could strangle the stewards…Latchkey kids. Granny said that’s what they used to call kids who came home from school to an empty house. But what do you call the school hols brigade. Flying once a year to see their dads. Getting to board first and being offered magic pens. Colouring in books to distract from the family-wrench. Trying not to cry as you look out the window. Because you’ve got to return to the woman. Who’ll be waiting anxiously in Sydney in her airport outfit. She’s probably there already. The long drive home to the mountains. The questions she doesn’t ask and I don’t answer.

Maybe one day I won’t get on the plane. I’ll disappear, duck out of sight of dad. Or I’ll rewind the plane down the tarmac. Reverse through the punters. Clutching their last-minute-texts-on-mobiles. I’ll stand and revel in the limpness of that concertinaed shute. Looking shrivelled, sad and used as the jet sucks itself away. Mum will spend her years wondering how I managed to go missing. From a plane in the air between Coolangatta and Sydney.

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And from Layla’s mother Margot, on the same topic:

But even though I now have the Church in my life sometimes I lie here afraid that the black hole is sneaking up again and it’s worse when Layla is away, this year she wanted to spend Christmas Day with Geoff, the first time we have been apart, and I don’t want to be all alone during the festive season but what could I say?’ …and Geoff’s always spoiling her with outings, so when she comes back home I look like the boring old mum, I mean, he seems to get all the good bits and he’s split up with the latest, they’ve been so many over the years, so God knows what space his head’s in and I get a bit worried about Layla when she’s not home, we’re on such different wavelengths, so I wish she’d answer her phone up there but she sees my name flash up and hits the reject button.

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Read my interview with Kirsten  here.

Just_a_girl is published by UWA Publishing, 2013. I read the E-book.

Passages Of Writing: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

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Book: The Spare Room, Helen Garner. First Pub 2008 – The Text Publishing Company.

Why: It’s so real, visceral. I felt like I was actually Helen caring for, getting angry at, and cleaning up after Nicola. Helen is brave, goes right to the truth of it and so crisply and clearly.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, not the actual difference, I mean in terms of writing style, and it’s occurred to me there does not have to be any difference. I’ve often had more success with my non-fiction than my fiction and after reading this I realise why: I’ve been wafting around the details in fiction. I need to get to the nit and grit of my characters and feel them, really see how the character sees and believe it, and throw some emotion at it.

I’m doing a final edit of my current book, and today went back to the start to make a real attempt to implement this, the crisp realness that comes with non-fiction, seeing, feeling and knowing, not pretending to know.

Peggy glanced at me. Horrified sympathy passed along her eye-beams. It weakened me. A huge wave of fatigue rinsed me from head to foot. I was afraid I would slide off the bench and measure my length among the cut roses. At the same time a chain of metallic thoughts went clanking through my mind, like the first dropping of an anchor. Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.

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What about the importance of the right adjective? Cut them out is often the advice, but when you do need them, should you go to the thesaurus for something unique, or should you wrangle common words into a lovely and intriguing formation? I don’t know.

She was an elegant, stick-thin woman pushing forty, in a narrow jacket and skirt that skimmed her wiry frame; her ankles and arches were so bony that she had to scuff her feet to keep her high-heeled sling-backs on. Her hair was springy as a pot scrubber, and her face was a darkly lit by a half-smile of ferocious irony.

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Passages Of Writing: The Heather Blazing by Colm Toibin.

Book: The Heather Blazing, Colm Toibin. First pub. Picador 1992. This ed. Picador 1993.

Why: I’ve been looking for good examples of opening paragraphs, and this seems to fit the bill.

Of course there’s no better opening than Lights Out in Wonderland, by DBC Pierre, (  just my opinion remember )  but this has it all:

-A character name that makes you feel like you’re saying ‘Mmmm Mmmm’ like you’re having a good time;

-action rather than reminiscing, reminiscing is nice but an act to place you there with the character is great;

-a time – Friday morning end of July;

-a place – looking out a window at a river in Dublin;

-a job – law related;

-and it even gives you a sense of state of mind – contemplative, using words like ‘stillness’ and ‘quiet’.

Add to that a bit of colour – brown and grey;

Within a couple more paragraphs he adds a suggestion of a bit of danger, bombs and balls of fire, and a question for us to ponder – a ruling on a court case. It’s all there in the first two pages.

Eamon Redmond stood at the window looking down at the river which was deep brown after days of rain. He watched the colour, the mixture of mud and water, and the small currents and pockets of movement within the flow. It was a Friday morning at the end of July; the traffic was heavy on the quays. Later, when the court had finished its sitting he would come back and look out once more at the watery grey light over the houses across the river and wait for the stillness, when the cars and lorries had disappeared and Dublin was quiet.

Passages of Writing: Point Omega by Don DeLillo


Book: Point Omega, Don DeLillo. Picador 2010.

Why: It’s intimate, kind, sad and quiet. The set up of this little piece is that these two men, who don’t really know each other that well, are waiting for something. Can’t say what in case you’d like to read it yourself. Suffice to say there is tension around them and this intimate moment is shrouded in sadness and kindness.

I stood behind him with a pair of scissors and a comb and told him it was time for a haircut.

He turned his head slightly, in inquiry, but I repositioned it and began to trim his sideburns. I talked as I worked. I talked in a kind of audiostream, combing and cutting through the tangled strands on one side of his head. I told him this was different from shaving. The day would come when he’d want to shave and he’d have to do it himself but the hair on his head was a question of morale, his and mine. I said many empty things that morning, matter-of-factly, half believing. I removed the wormy rubberband from the weave of braided hair at the back of his neck and tried to comb and trim. I kept skipping to other parts of the head. He spoke about Jessie’s mother, her face and her eyes, his admiration, voice trailing off, low and hoarse. I felt compelled to trim the hair in his ears, long white fibers curling out of the dark. I tried to unsnarl every inch of matted vegetation before I cut. He spoke about his sons. You don’t know this, he said. I have two sons from the first marriage. Their mother was a paleontologist. Then he said it again. Their mother was a paleontologist. He was remembering her, seeing her in the word. She loved this place and so did the boys. I did not, he said. But this changed over the years. He began to look forward to his time here, he said, and then the marriage broke up and the boys were young men and that was all he was able to say.

p 90.

Passages of Writing: The Last City by Nina D’Aleo

Book: The Last City, Nina D’Aleo. Published by Momentum, Aug 2012 E-book

Why: I’m a sucker for gorgeous writing and Nina’s writing is just that – it’s beautiful and voluptuous (in a non-sexual way) and flows like a dream with rhythm and timing.

The Last City is published by Momentum who are putting out fantastic new work. I’m only half way in but I can’t put it down. The characters are real (testament to Nina) and the story is engaging and moreish.

Blurb from the pub: An intoxicating blend of noir crime, science fiction and fantasy The Last City is Blade Runner meets Perdido Street Station.

The women for sale loitered around their territories, sizing up passers-by with eyes intent on picking flesh. The winding whistle of a gypsy busker’s flute drowned the sounds of unsavoury purchase.

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The Mocking Witch of O’Tenery Asylum had taken her in, along with the other throwaways, runaways and screeching crazies. She saw herself in her mind, waking silent as a shadow through the asylum building, the labyrinth of rooms haunted and lurking in a permanent state of semi-darkness. Low ceilings pressed lower and constricting walls crept closer until she felt as though she was sliding on her belly. Suffocating in the rancid air of rotting waste and a thousand unwashed bodies. Eyes peered at her from behind rusted bars that were now now more than grisly reminders. Scorpia’s government, the Standard, had long since abandoned the derelict building and its broken wards. Now only their minds kept them prisoner, and Ev’r knew the truth better than anyone: there was no escaping yourself, no matter how far or fast you run.

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Passages of Writing: The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982

 

 

 

Book: The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 Harper Collins 2007

 

Why: It’s just a little reminder in a world of texting, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest to stop and breathe. Keeping busy does block out the ills of the world but you can feel it – when you forget to just be still, running with the pack day after day – the loss of self.

Creative impulse doesn’t only apply to Artists and Writers, it apples to living your life in the moment with family friends and your self.

 

January 19, 1973. Days of teaching; meeting with students; talking with colleagues. The irresistible pull of the external world. One could very easily lose oneself within it…”keeping busy” is the remedy for all ills in America. It’s also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.

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