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Rhythm of life

In 1994, Jay Verney released her first novel, A Mortality Tale, which told the story of how an encounter with death impacted on the life of an individual. It was short listed for both the Vogel and Miles Franklin awards. After ten years, her second novel, Percussion, has finally been published.

It has been worth the wait.

As in her first novel, Verney takes the theme of death as her starting point. This time she has broadened her scope, and instead of focusing on an individual, she tackles not just one, but two cultures.

Three generations of women travel to the US to attend a war veteran’s reunion. Some of the grandmother’s friends married American soldiers, stationed in Queensland during World War II.

This background to the novel provides an interesting context to the story. It was World War II when Australian and US relations effectively began. Since then it has been a gradual step closer toward America, as we separated from Britain. The main purpose of Percussion seems to be an examination of how well these two cultures cohabit, and an explanation for why they do not.

For Verney, the key to this is how differently each culture deals with death. She achieves this by creating a parallel between the granddaughter, mother and grandmother, travelling through the US, and the rest of their family dealing with their everyday lives in a fictional Australian coastal town, Pineapple Bay. This then comes together in telling how, on returning home, their period in the States has impacted on the whole family. Here Verney contrasts the American denial of death with an Australian acceptance of it.

All the usual images of American culture as a wasteland are present, such as the superficiality of Las Vegas glitz juxtaposed with its surrounding desert. The central incident of the novel, an unexpected earthquake occurring along an hitherto undiscovered fault line, and the violent civil unrest which follows, could be taken by some as an analogy of the Twin Towers disaster. In the hands of a lesser writer, such images could have fallen into cliché. But Verney crafts them into fine points of contrast, which sees, at the centre of Percussion, not an anti-American tirade, but a gentle nod to what it may mean for some to be Australian.

Percussion, Jay Verney. University of Queensland Press, 2004. isbn 0 702 23449 4, rrp $22.95

Matthew Lamb has a PhD in Literature, he lives and writes in Brisbane, and will soon commence a PhD in Philosophy.




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