A young girl is desperate to escape her poor Australian family. She has a one year student placement in the United States where she stays with a rich family. But the parents expect her to conform to some rigid rules, the daughter resents her and the young son wants to have sex with her. She struggles to fit in and her 'bad' behaviour has consequences.
Perhaps the fundamental problem is that back home there has been petty squalor while everything in the US is too perfect. She feels the pressure to be perfect while being aware that she isn't, and the world isn't. The few friends that she does make are other misfits: the sin-exploring Mormon, the drug-addled millionaire's son, the rebellious Russian chess-player. When she has the opportunity to shine in the 'perfect' world, landing a part in the school musical (by auditioning with the savagely ironic song 'Anything you can do, I can do better'), she needs alcohol to cope. She is the classic outsider (in the Colin Wilson sense): she can see the short-comings of the world and yet she desperately wants to be a part of it,
- "The carpet is so threadbare you can see through to its veins." (1.2)
- "As I lay there, I could smell the dirty dishcloth Mum uses to wipe the lino." (1.2)
- "After years of exposure to this advertising frenzy, people must start to despise each other for being ugly, for having so much as a birthmark on their chin with hair growing out of it." (1.5)
- "There are so many healthy, good-looking teenagers, that a few crooked teeth, or short, fat fingers, suddenly take on the proportions of deformities." (2.11)
As a metaphor for this, she has endemic insomnia. Something else that everyone can do which she can't (although she can sleep fine in other people's beds, just not in her own). And of course the metaphor is perfect because she can wander around the house at night and look at everyone else while they are sleeping, another outside seeing the rest of us sleep-walking through our lives.
- "Within minutes of closing my eyes, my brain springs open, like a flick-knife." (1.2)
- "The wave of sleep has washed up on the shore of my unhealthy skull." (2.15)
- "It's like sitting down to a plate of food, only to find that you have no mouth to eat it with. Even worse than that, it happens when you are hungriest, when the food is of most use to you, and when you are quite sure you have a mouth. ... In fact, only yesterday, you were sure that your mouth was working very well indeed. You even saw it there on your face when you looked in the mirror." (3.20)
A classic tale of a teenage misfit.
Some memorable moments:
- "A smile so tight and wide it must be hurting his face." (1.2)
- "She moves her hands in her baggy pocket in an obscene and excited fidgeting, as though her bulging pinafore is about to give birth to something with too many knuckles." (3.20)
A beautifully-written classic tale of a teenage misfit.
This was M J Hyland's debut novel. She has also written Carry Me Down about a young boy living in Ireland who also fails to fit in.
|This review was written by|
the author of Motherdarling
February 2021; 330 pages
Get the first few pages on kindle by clicking here.