A crashed car on a country road, a fragile young woman and man who collects broken things… These are the elements which introduce Jessie Cole’s debut novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Vincent is something of a drifter, a handyman on the cusp of forty, unpolished, but tender. From the moment he stops to help the young woman he finds sitting beside her crashed car, his life takes a new direction. Rachel, brittle and grieving, returns to Vincent’s house and a strange and intense relationship develops between them.
Vincent’s daughter Gemma is sixteen, and entering the unknown land of male and female relationships. She wonders how she can spend all night talking to a boy and then, ‘at school he acted like he’d never seen me before…’ Gemma has watched Vincent move from woman to woman in the town, always choosing ones with, ‘a half-crazy edge’. ‘I used to wonder what it was about my dad that attracts these women… But lately I’m thinking maybe I should be worried about what it is that he needs from them.’ Gemma watches with apprehension as the dynamic between Vincent and Rachel changes.
The story is told from the alternate voices of father and daughter. Both voices are strong, distinct and totally authentic. There are some beautiful moments between Gemma and her father such as when Vincent tries to tell her how he feels about Rachel. ‘…I can never explain it, and the more I’d try the weirder it’d sound.’ All three characters struggle to communicate their feelings – the gaps between what they say and what they feel ring loudly.
Set in an isolated valley in the Northern Rivers, the novel explores themes of masculinity and sexuality, communication and miscommunication. In the style of writers like Tim Winton, it is a tense and gripping portrayal of the current that lies beneath relationships in the smallest of towns.
The theme of male violence also pervades the book. Vincent, though compassionate and principled, is quick to anger. I read the book with a knot of apprehension which grew as the story progressed. But what touched me most was its quality of transience. As Vincent reflects, lying next to Rachel, ‘I lay there, still and quiet, knowing that nothing lasts forever, but sort of hoping that it could.’
This is a novel you’ll read quickly and then wish you’d read slowly because you don’t want it to end.
This is my tenth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
Join Jessie and I in conversation at Lennox Head Library 10.30am on the 24th of July or Lismore Library 5.30pm on the 26th July. Free events. All welcome.
Or, otherwise at the Byron Writers Festival 3-5th August.
Hope to see you there!