Wow. When I finished Scot Gardner’s Happy as Larry it was late at night. Bad move. I closed the cover and lay awake, tense and restless, for several hours. Outside my room, traffic growled and hissed. In my mind, a postman buzzed along the footpaths of Villea. Scot’s characters still inhabited my imagination.
I’m not going to serve up any hints or spoilers here – other than to say this book is like storm clouds on the horizon. When you see a mess of dark, bruising clouds you might think ‘there’s a storm over there’ but, based on blue sky above, make the assumption that distant turbulence won’t darken your day. That’s how I read Happy as Larry. And, with my attention elsewhere, I didn’t hear the wind change, didn’t sense the temperature dropping, didn’t feel the raindrops until the hailstones had me ducking for cover.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so many of Scot’s novels that I was caught unawares. Each of them is a yarn that could be happening wherever you are. Right now. Step outside and you could be one of the characters. (I grew up in rural Victoria so the stories feel particularly real to me. In Gravity, the shift from the country to a dingy urban block of flats felt like a chapter from my life.)
Happy as Larry‘s Villea feels like any number of rural towns I’ve lived in or visited as a journo. Despite the familiarity, I didn’t see this particular story emerging. From where I’m sitting, that’s good writing.
Here are some extracts:
(p34) They ate breakfast and dressed as quietly as they could, loaded up their gear and set off for the long jetty at four-year-old kilometres per hour.
(p168) While Larry knew and trusted his father, his mother had been battered and marked like a lunch-box peach.
(p189) Mal lay beside his wife in bed and felt the ocean of indifference rise between them. It had been winter in their bedroom since the baby died, and his sex-drive had gone into hibernation.
(p194) Sadness he didn’t know he had crept out of his belly and grabbed at his throat.
I’ve dog-eared lots more pages but I’ll resist further extracts. When you read it, please send me some of the lines that resonated with you.
Happy as Larry was published by Allen & Unwin in 2010 and is a CBCA notable book for 2011.