Hawker Kingsley is an embittered, philosophizing ex-con who has thought himself into isolation in Springvale, a town west of Sydney, Australia. His past is coloured by a terrible childhood, a career as a bike gang leader, and a murder conviction: a history in stark contrast to his current vocation of raising and selling kittens.
Hawker would be unnoticeable if not for his anti-social behaviour, including his daily routine of shooting the head of an effigy of his ex-wife while playing their old favourite song, by Merle Haggard. His neighbours think he’s a madman but are too scared to complain to the police, opting to steer clear of him. Except for fifteen-year-old Elsie Ashberg who lives next door. Elsie’s a deep thinker too, a writer who, in her own teenage way, feels alone in the world. She senses in Hawker a kindred spirit.
She makes the first move by appearing at his house. Instead of wilting from his gruff reaction, she buys him a CD by her favourite band, Korn, as well as one by Willie Nelson. Her naive thinking behind the latter selection, that he’s a country music fan, rather than that the Merle Haggard song has a singular emotional meaning, is way off the mark. She’s too inexperienced in life to grasp that Hawker is an iceberg of experience and depth; Elsie only glimpses the tip.
Yet her efforts affect Hawker in a positive way and his bemused tolerance gradually develops into a fondness for this girl who’s not afraid of him. Her influence subtly seeps into him just as, in a very parallel way, her juvenile fascination makes her change. His impact on her, however, is not altogether positive. This is a simple story about an unlikely relationship, told with satisfying depth.
The other characters in Springvale—primarily Elsie’s parents and friends—are well, normal. And generally this could be a criticism of a fictional work, but it mostly helps this novella, which sharply focuses on these two outcasts and their impact on each other. They need to be in the background, perhaps slightly blurred, but still distinct. Furthermore, they provide moments of levity in what could otherwise become a too-earnest story.
The writing is engaging with the handling of omniscient and close third-person points of view deftly handled. Its use effectively reveals to the reader the shifts caused by this relationship, while keeping the characters unaware of them until the end.
There are areas for improvement, though. Occasionally, there’s too much narrating (reporting?) of insignificant little action, such as when Elsie buys the CDs and the financial exchange is given in complete detail. Another aspect that concerned me was Elsie’s parents’ lack of protectiveness of their only child once they see her fraternizing with this potentially violent neighbour. It seemed too easy and convenient at times for Elsie and Hawker to get together.
These minor distractions take nothing away from an intensely compelling story. You can’t do much better with a free download by an author who understands people and how to portray them.
(review of free book)