Lynette Washington’s debut is a collection of interlinked stories all set around Plane Tree Drive. I was slightly alarmed by the extensive directory of characters at the front of the book, but I chose to ignore it as I read, and it wasn’t an issue. I was able to follow the connections, or disregard them, as it didn’t always matter to me who was who. What counted was what was happening and how deftly it was written.
It is full of acute observations like ‘you are different people, depending on who you are with. You know this and you even know when you are self-censoring; you have that awareness’; ‘security and love are not the same’; how ‘high school sucks – all these hierarchies and rules about who you are allowed to talk to’; that ‘we’re saturated with detention stories. Compassion fatigue, they call it. They want something different. Something happy’; and ‘you don’t throw things away because they are crumbling. You nurture things that aren’t strong’.
Relationships are depicted with insight – ‘he’s clutching at relationship straws and it smells of desperation. We’re looking for dusty conversation at the bottom of a drought-stricken lake’; siblings with divergent views on what to do with their father, where the woman who sees him more often, as is generally the case, leaves her father with her brother hoping he will ’have a bad day so that Eldon will see what I can’t tell him’; a woman pining for her first love but married with a baby ‘woke feeling peaceful, but when Ava cries from her cot, hungry and wet, my peace ruptures’; the one that got away – ‘somewhere inside of me will always be the person who loves a man she cannot have, who time and circumstance and fear, mostly fear, conspired against’; the lonely old man looking for ‘People In My Life. Conversations to be had. No more looking out the window watching for the postie to pass me by’; and the mature couple with ‘nothing left to be done. We ticked all the boxes. So now are we supposed to hang up our desires and dreams and settle in with a cup of tea and the telly, passing each other the heart-smart margarine over our toast in the morning?’
Washington delights, questions and surprises with the irony of a ‘church cum porno’, a community radio broadcaster suffering a meltdown, a musician with his ‘personal addiction support group’ he’s trying to avoid, his wife and mother of his children who has ‘been too busy telling his dad to fuck off and not come back that I didn’t see that Jacob was a living breathing replica’, a woman who assists people finding housing going through a depressing process that doesn’t bring about the results that it is designed to do.
I loved her ways with words – ‘Grown-down? That’s a thing?’‘Yeah, it’s what adults do when they are sick of rules and responsibility’; for the public servant – ‘This is my job description: fix this, sort that, but don’t forget your hands are tied behind your back’; ‘when I grew up, being too thin meant that you couldn’t afford to eat, now it means you have more money than God’.
She deals with many issues including mental health, Aboriginal dispossession, rape in marriage, aging, dying with dignity. The stories go back and forth in time, sometimes bringing me to tears, many aha moments looking at the lives they are expected to live versus the ones they choose, sometimes later in life when they are older and wiser. This book is a gem, full of little gems, and I look forward to more from this author.