Wednesday, August 31, 2011

review : black painted fingernails

black painted fingernails, steven herrick (allen&unwin)

in steven herrick's newest book, published a couple of months ago now, student teacher james is heading to a country town for his very first teaching experience. ostensibly, james is ready - he's got the job, somewhere to stay (and all paid up), he's got the keys to a bmw and a healthy cut lunch for the drive.

luckily for the reader, who might be despairing at this point for james' lack of imagination and sense of adventure, he stops to fill up with petrol and is somehow conned into giving sophie a lift on his way.

sophie is older. she's hair, legs and black painted fingernails. and she's got james pegged immediately and she goes out of her way to encourage, entice and embarrass him out of his shell.

she brings out a tube of lipstick and elaborately applies it to her full lips , then kisses the hankie, leaving a big red pout above my name. she hands it back to me. 'don't wash it. leave it for your mum.'

it soon becomes clear that james is far from ready, and far from willing to enter into the teaching life. and sophie - so cocky and apparently self-assured - is hiding, or has masked, some painful secrets and sadness. the characters are all big-hearted, very real people. they talk, they're awkward.

sophie's third-person narrated chapters deal almost exclusively with her back story and the reader learns how she developed her tough exterior. the scenes with cardigan madrigal, the gentle hippie boy - the only boy in town who didn't like football - of sophie's teen years in her rough country hometown are such a highlight.

and in an unusual move, a number of the chapters are narrated from james' parents point of view. ok, so you don't really want to read about (spoiler) parents having sex, but at the same time it's kind of special to be privvy to angela and michael's experience of being left behind by their only son - coping with his absence and torn between trying to protect him from the world while also wanting him to discover it. complete pic of family and when the time comes, at the end of the novel, we are able to understand the parents' motivations and responses.

on one hand you think you have this story figured out: road trip, coming of age, boy meets a quirky girl and is bewitched. on the other hand...this is steven herrick and it's beautifully written and a truly lovely story.


hey anonymousauruses - give yourselves a name. a nom de plume, a nom de blog. it's more fun that way.