A new voice in Australian fiction tells a story of trauma and the long shadow it casts over the lives of three unforgettable characters.
Fiona and her sons are fleeing her violent marriage. The farmhouse, west of Queensland's Gold Coast, is old and has been empty for many years, but Fiona says yes because the rent is low, and it is someplace else. Here, she can disappear.
Alick, an ex-army sniper, lies motionless on the ridge watching the woman and her children through his rifle scope. Something has changed. Not the house itself. That remains resilient, despite him. The changes are exterior. The paths have been cleared, the vegetable garden weeded, the broken edging heaped into cairns like the graves of dead dogs.
Sven, a young backpacker, walks the rutted track toward the old farmhouse in search of work. He joins Fiona and Alick on the property as a farmhand, but he has his own secret to protect and a history he is desperate to conceal.
Fiona, Alick and Sven carry their pasts close to the surface and they return to them in their waking hours. On this farm tucked away from the rest of the world, they confront their inner demons.
Numb is an extraordinary story of loss, fear and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Blondell’s worldbuilding of trauma is a sophisticated metronome, a gradual slide into the minds of the emotionally muted main characters. Fiona is haunted by her husband’s mental manipulation of her, Alick is plagued by Vietnam, and Sven struggles with his dark upbringing. The easy dialogue and brisk prose propel the tension-filled pacing of the dark and occasionally humorous narrative. As other characters emerge—Fiona’s interfering older sister, Alick’s drinking buddy, Sven’s meth-loving cohort—they are well-utilized to further blur the lines between truth and deception, healthy and hallucinatory, and control and controlling.
Each character is beautifully flawed, striving toward their own landscape of redemption and tending to their emotional wounds. The beacon of triumph is always just in front of them, almost teasingly out of reach. Their push toward overcoming current circumstances is an uncomfortably numb foray with a twist of a payoff. Readers will have no difficulty staying engaged with this brief, tense story of justified fear and determined survival.
Takeaway: Readers who want to see women taking charge of their lives will be enthralled by this quiet tale of mistaken identity, subtle loyalty, and the redefining of family.
Great for fans of Claire Messud, Megan Abbott
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B-