goodreads giveaway AND
fulfilling book riot’s 2020 read harder challenge task #10: Read a book that takes place in a rural setting
which describes 89% of what i already read…
Community radio host Ciara receives dozens of unmarked cassette recordings every week and broadcasts them to a listenership of none. Ex-musician Tom drives an impractical bus that no one ever boards. Publican Jenny runs a hotel that has no patrons. Rick wanders the aisles of the Woolworths every day in an attempt to blunt the disappointment of adulthood.
In a town of innumerable petrol stations, labyrinthine cul-de-sac streets, two competing shopping plazas, and ubiquitous drive-thru franchises, where are these people likely to find the truth about their collective past – and can they do so before the town completely disappears?
Shaun Prescott’s debut novel The Town follows an unnamed narrator’s efforts to complete a book about disappeared towns in the Central West of New South Wales. Set in a yet-to-disappear town–a town believed by its inhabitants to have no history at all–the novel traces its characters’ attempts to carve their own identities in a place that is both unyielding and teetering on the edge of oblivion.
this is the kind of slipstreamy, surreal-but-grounded, quasi-apocalyptic, unsettling stuff i love. atmospheric, mind-bendy irreality with overlapping narratives that challenges the reader with ambiguity, multiple interpretations, a slight displacement that lingers long after the story ends. it sounded like it would have touchpoints comparable to The Sea Came in at Midnight and Infinite Jest, with maybe a little Flee, for good measure.
and it was fine, occasionally more than fine, but it just didn’t live up to my expectations.
and i’ll just come right out and say that i am an asshole american who knows zero about disappeared towns in the central west of new south wales, so the real-world phenomena inspiring the book was a significance completely lost on me, and all i can really respond to is the writing and storyline.
it’s about a man researching the disappearing towns in the central west of new south wales. i know i just said that in the paragraph above, but the unnamed narrator does not refrain from repeating that phrase, so neither shall i. the disappearing towns in the central west of new south wales. the disappearing towns in the central west of new south wales. the disappearing towns in the central west of new south wales.
squatting himself down in this disappearing town in the central west of new south wales for research and observation, he meets several of the region’s inhabitants; oddballs and loners who are deeply lonely, and they share their stories which he records as the town (in the central west of new south wales) disappears around them.
and many of these stories are affecting and interesting-enough reads, but the overall vibe of this book is…sludgy. when the characters are relaying their stories, it’s grand, but the in-between parts are a bit boring and confusing, and while the atmosphere is steve erickson-adjacent; with its tone characterized by a creeping dread of an unknown but inevitable catastrophe—and keeping in mind that i know nothing about aboriginal populations in australia; specifically the wiradjuri people to whom this book is dedicated—for me, the book became a bit tedious and turgid and it took me way to long to get through.
Slumped in the lounge with the bottle between his legs, Rob said it was very painful having a person fall out of love with you. Every day when he woke up, it was only a matter of seconds before he remembered that he was in immense pain. The immense pain did not subside until he passed out that night. Before, he could never have imagined what it would be like to feel so much pain. He had not thought it feasible that this amount of pain could affect one person at any given time. It was simply intolerable. Why did people continue living when this much pain was possible?
so, while i know my ignorance prevented me from appreciating a lot of nuance here, i’m a human person who can relate to the universal feelings of loneliness and dread and the observable violence of a world on-edge, and i certainly thought he did a good job with the broad-spectrum humanity of it, but i’m left feeling about this book the way the narrator describes his own:
It would be no masterpiece, but it certainly would be a book.
however, big points for the inclusions of icehouse, specifically their song Great Southern Land, which can be listened to on the youtube here.