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The Waters by Carl Nixon

Written as twenty-one stories which, together, associate, recall, link and reverberate, Carl Nixon’s novel, The Waters, takes us on an excursion of time and place. Primarily focused on events which occur between 2001 and 2019, we are also taken to the 70’s and 80’s as we move amongst the country roads, paddocks, baches and beaches of Canterbury.

Multiple voices are used to create a complex picture of family and the conflicts and traumas of the past and present. The Waters own a farm in Banks Peninsula which has been passed down through generations. The family is very much a part of the town and community but, despite his promise to his father, Pat Waters, sells the farm and buys property in New Brighton with the idea of building speculative houses. The family must move from everything that is familiar, the house Pat has bought is filthy and decrepit, and his scheme to become a property developer faulters then fails.

All of this causes enormous hardship for his family, Pat’s drinking becomes out of control and Marika Waters’ mental health deteriorates; she talks jokingly about running away but there’s ‘nowhere to go’. When Marika has gone and Pat loses all the money he has invested in the project, the children are removed from their home by social welfare.

Their children are markedly affected both then and later by the upheavals and unhappiness of their family life. As adults, Mark, while a successful businessman, is unable to hold onto a relationship and can’t face his feelings whereas, his younger brother, Davey ‘feels things too deeply’ and Samantha, their sister, worries that her daughter Taylor’s anorexia is caused by faulty family genes.

Nixon vividly portrays a family which has been ravaged by trauma and the reverberations which follow the children into adulthood. The writing is beautifully sparse lit with imagery - ‘the faint clank of a pot that sounded like a ship moving in the darkness’. The multiple voices show us the many dimensions that make up a family and our human selves. While Mark reflects that, ‘All that was bad in their lives he saw as a ripple that came from Pat’, he also recalls, ‘ how Pat laid out, in no certain terms, the rules and boundaries that would keep them safe. At the time, he’d felt as if their father was a giant who could keep all the bad things in the world away forever.’

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Vintage Publishers


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