There’s a strange sense of synchronicity that saw this particular novel land on my desk for review, not least the fact that the central character – Darius Tucker (Digger) – grew up in the same West Australian wheat-belt town as my husband. Deja vu moments abound as I stumble across scenery taken straight from my memory bank and characters that seem far too familiar.
At times, the imagery in Campbell Jeffery’s novel is sublimely perfect, such as Digger’s memory of his aboriginal mother just before she left home:
Her feet were bare, her soles a deep shade of sandstone and just as cracked, and her shins and calves the colour and texture of dusty chocolate. She stood at the edge of the veranda, searching the darkness. (4)
The mining town where Digger and his mate (the gorgeously named “Humphrey Boragart”) worked for a time was, “a mess of houses built somewhere else and then thrown together here in the guise of frontier prosperity” and the miners who lived there “happily pissed their wages away or threw them up”. (17) As someone who has lived and worked in the mining towns of old, I can vouch for the aptness of Jefferys’ description. I hasten to add that modern-day mining towns are different animals than they were ‘back in my day’.
The story is full of contradictions and I haven’t worked out yet if I did a poor job of reading between the lines or if I was trying to find things that just weren’t there.
- Digger’s father – a thoughtless and wasteful alcoholic – failed to garner any sympathy from me so when, in later life, the son looks up to him, idolises him in fact as some sort of hero, I was left cold.
- I was convinced from the beginning that Humphrey was gay (and I thought perhaps Digger was too) and yet they both spend their time chasing women.
- I felt there was more to the relationship between Digger and Humphrey (a homosexual tryst perhaps?) but, despite what I gauged as subtle hints, nothing was revealed. At the very least there was an underlying sexual tension that the author “put out there” but then didn’t follow up on (or so it seemed to me).
Some of the later chapters become a little self-indulgent, giving me a sense of a man settling a few old scores. And I felt the cultural and historical Australian facts were not couched convincingly within the lines of dialogue so that some of the speech seems contrived and unnatural. The attempts by Humphrey and Digger to educate people via their restaurant come across as just a little too “worthy” and the speed with which some acquaintances drop years of dogma, capitulating because of a few words spoken by a weird restaurant-owner, isn’t quite believable.
In places, the writing was vibrant and interesting, in others stilted. A good editor would have taken the author to task over the sex-scenes. “Squishy”? Possibly true, but not OK. “The first squelchy, tingly thrust”? More than a bit off-putting, I thought.
Speaking of editing, the whole book would have benefited from a good bit of topiary, bringing it to a more shapely and intriguing 200 pages, rather than the full 379 (including appendices and notes) presented here.
A case in point:
He made himself a roll to take with him. Humphrey went and got dressed, taking his half a roll with him. When he came back out of his room, Darius was standing by the door. (271)
This passage and others like it add nothing to the story and should have been chopped out altogether.
Occasionally, I was nonplussed by odd word choices such as a panty-line “shimmering from side to side” (273).
I liked the way the book was structured with chapters that give the readers their geographical bearing (“Up North”, “Down South” and “The Mountains”) as well as psychological co-ordinates (“Bloodline” and “Truth Soup”), interspersed with conversational interview vignettes.
I believe this is Jefferys’ third book and I understand he has had a number of short-stories and articles published.
True Blue Tucker is available from Rippple Books.