Still Life with Tornado

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A. S. King, Still Life with Tornado,  Text Publishing,  29 May 2017,  304pp.,  $19.99 (pbk),  ISBN 9781925498646

Sarah is having an existential crisis. It started at school, where she suddenly could no longer draw – not a still life of fruit, not even her hand. Her art left her and so she left school. She spends time on the street following a homeless man until she’s asked not to, keeping away from home where her parents live strange parallel lives, and thinking back to the Mexican holiday that heralded the end of her brother’s relationship with his family. She meets a younger version of herself, one that remembers the truth of that holiday, and older versions that reassure her that she will, in time, be a self-contained and wiser person. With this encouragement, Sarah contacts her brother who has been waiting six years for her call. When he comes home, his presence exposes the terrible truth about their abusive father and is the catalyst for change.

This book takes a long time to get going. Sarah’s moody wanderings ground at me until secrets started unravelling. Slowly, a picture develops of Sarah’s extreme pain and confusion about the life she’s been living for six years. King inserts occasional chapters from Sarah’s mother’s point of view, which feels a deliberate attempt to give another voice to this story and increase its pace. I wondered if a point of view from the brother may have achieved the same thing but kept the plot focused on the young people involved. The story builds to an authentic representation of the effect of domestic violence on an ordinary family, and the complex consequences of trying to keep together while being as wind-swept as a tornado. A thoughtful read.

Teaching Notes can be found on the Text Publishing website.

Reviewed by Pam Harvey

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