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"Why is this all so sad?" he asked. He stroked the bony head and the lamb nuzzled against his jumper looking for a teat.

—p.195

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This is a 1st person narrative from a woman you probably won't like very much. In line with her reclusive personality, there's not many other characters to glom onto, so pull out your empathy card, sit back and pay attention. Our heroine, Jake Whyte, is a wandering storyteller. It's not that she's elusive; she's just not very self-aware, so the gaps and withholds become matryoshka nesting dolls for you to investigate. The described actions on the page are merely hooks into the seas of enturbulation, rebellion, self-loathing, violence, and denial underneath the page. For the book sleuth who needs closure, the ending chapter will drag back to Chapter One—and a re-read.

Jake is a young woman who grew up in Australia and has somehow managed to get to an isolated island off the coast of England. She's bought a small ranch with around forty sheep. Her only companion is a collie named Dog. She keeps to herself; which is fine for the locals, since they suffer from Maineinitis(1). As she breaks open her journey for us, it is obvious she's been running then hiding from something.

Events move in present time with backstory fleshing out the characterization. She tells her past in jumbled, out-of-sync chapters that are deliberately confusing like her illogical, sometimes childish personality. Her ago-life is motivated by fear, hunger, survival by any means. She cleans dunnys, gives blowjobs in alleys for chump change, sleeps in tourist hostels, and is even lured by an old abductor named Otto to his isolated ranch as a sometimes-sex, mostly-housekeeping prisoner. It is there she learns sheeping.

There are two major withholds that keep her tale spinning tight: in the past, she has acquired a back of welted scars, causing her to bolt from her family as a teenager, and, in the present, someone or something is killing her sheep. In the midst of this, a homeless gent is found sleeping off a bender in her woolshed. Lloyd is either pitiable or endearing, and Jake lets him sleep on her couch for a time. And, against all her built-up defenses, a relationship forms.

All of her short life, Jake has been scorned—considered worthless—except for her talent to handle sheep. The thing slaughtering her sheep has a lot to do with this accomplishment, as it is taking away what little self-esteem she has left to her. If you are a realist reader, this is gonna thorn you. If you are more fantastical you'll feel the significance of the closing paragraphs.

 

"It's huge," he said in a voice that did not sound like his own. "It's hereit's just here."

"And you see it?"

"It's just in front of us"

Something crunched in the undergrowth.

"Should we run?" I said, but I didn't think we would.

It moved deeper into the woods and we stayed standing, watching and listening.

"My god," said Lloyd quietly.

I looked down and saw that we were holding hands.

—p. 228

 

 

1) Okay, this is a stupid, made-up word to describe the residents of a place shunning instead of welcoming newcomers, as exemplified by the reputation of the state of Maine for this kind of behavior. Jake is outright cold-shouldered, flipped off and BAed by the general community.

text only © copyright 01/18/2015 by Larry Crawford

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