Loveland by Robert Lukins

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Robert Lukins is an Australian author – his first book The Everlasting Sunday was published in 2018 and received positive reviews.  Loveland is his second novel and is largely set in Nebraska in a small town called Loveland.

There are two parallel stories but chronologically they take place sixty odd years apart.  Set in 1956, the first concerns Casey married to Moses and, with their daughter Rosie, living in Loveland in a boathouse within the grounds of an amusement park which Moses is attempting to restore to its former glory.  The second story, set in more recent times, concerns May – married to Patrick and living on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.  They have a son Francis aged about seventeen.  Casey is grandmother and Rosie is mother to May.  On Casey’s death, her property is bequeathed to May and she is obliged to travel to Nebraska to finalise the estate.

What links the stories of Casey and May – apart from their blood relationship – is that both are in relationships characterised by family violence.  Moses dies by violence but the circumstances of his death are not fully revealed until the last pages of the novel.  Patrick also dies from a violent act – although different in nature from Moses’ – which again takes place near the end of the novel.

After the death of Moses, Casey and Rosie travel to and settle in Australia.  There Casey increasingly withdraws into herself hiding the true circumstances of Moses’ death while she is slowly dying of cancer.

Although both Moses and Patrick die from violent acts and both are perpetrators of family violence, the violence is rarely made explicit.  It is expressed in understated terms as [h]er [May’s] wedding dress easily covered the fresh bruises on her hip and the older ones on her upper arms [172]; and he reached for her [Casey] and the muscles of her body turned to stone.  She imagined the cold steel blade with its point at her neck [84].

Rather than diminishing its effect, the absence of explicit descriptions of the violence adds to its frightening nature and renders understandable the constant sense of wariness shown by both Casey and May as they interact with their respective husbands.  As May soon realises: the marks on her body were not the worst of it.  The worst of it was the fear that stole her every breath [43].

The secondary story concerns Patrick – May’s son.  Emotionally distant and already exhibiting nascent signs of becoming like his father Patrick, Francis pushes against any sign of affection or care shown by May.  Despite this, Francis remains at the heart of May’s concern and it is Francis whom she wishes to protect from his father and ultimately reconnect with emotionally.

Deliberately written in an understated style where much is left unsaid but conveyed to the reader by Casey’s and May’s internal dialogues, the author has created a moving and emotional story of two women facing an ever-present threat of toxic masculinity.  In intensely personal ways, they each take whatever action is necessary to delay or evade the inevitable.  Ultimately, both enact solutions for their situations – which given all the circumstances seem perfectly reasonable.

The author’s capacity to reach deep within all the book’s characters and convey to the reader an understanding of them in a few short simple sentences is remarkable.  He consistently demonstrates compassion for the characters even while they are acting perhaps irrationally and unreasonably.

Loveland is an excellent novel which engages the reader from the start with sympathy for and an understanding particularly of the two female protagonists – and also with admiration for their courage and determination.

Well recommended.

Robert Lukins first novel The Everlasting Sunday was shortlisted for a number of awards including the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  His work has also appeared in a number of journals including Rolling Stone, Crikey, and Big Issue.

Loveland

[2022]

by Robert Lukins

Allen and Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76087 986 6

$32.99; 335pp

 

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