Geography is frequently the core influence in Tim Wintons writing. Natural landscape and the man-made settlements on it have a profound effect on his characters. Like his excellent last novel, Dirt Music, The Turning is set in Western Australia. Its a collection of short stories about the inhabitants of a small coastal town, their lives over-lapping from one tale to another. For some, the town is a stagnant, gossip-ridden prison. For others, its a fresh start, a retreat from city life.
Wintons characters are all people weve met, struggling to make sense of love, family, work and the sudden tragedies that can hit us like freak waves. Hes fascinated by the connections between people, positive or negative, wondering why we appear in each others lives and what effect our presence has. The most dramatic scenes in the book are mostly one-on-one, two individuals in some kind of crisis or revelation.
Wintons prose style is unpretentious and conversational; he is an astute observer of the physical world, as well as the more complex one inside our heads. Small wonders co-exist with horrendous suffering; the dramas are convincing because theyre always enmeshed in mundane reality. Life fragments and crashes around us, but we still have to make dinner for the kids. The title story here is particularly engrossing, with flashes of bleak humour within a tale of desperation and domestic violence: Raelene was no Sherry, though the boys from the Cesspit still paid her close attention whenever she walked by, and compared to some other women in town, like the girls in the Tuesday night darts team, she was a deadset trophy.
Amongst all the talk of damage, memory and betrayal, the characters also find time for important conversations like, Now and then I tried to engage him in hot conjecture about whether David Bowie was really a poof or if Marc Bolan (who HAD to be a poof) was taller than he looked but I never got far.
Though the book spans the past 60 years, the 70s are Wintons glory decade; hes a master of period detail. Where else can you read about teenage girls wearing Dr Scholls sandals and 4711 Ice Cologne, watching Auntie Jack or going to the drive-in in panel vans?
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.
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