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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Transit Lounge by JCL Purchase

The simple beauty of this collection by Jenny Purchase lies in the characters. This is not so much a collection of stories with plots but a series of vivid characterisations. Rough and ruggedly drawn likes the environments many of them inhabit. The variety is what makes the collection sing. Where some of these characters are the marginal or the no-hopers, it is that very lack of hope that brings them to life. For others it is the realism of the situation. I’m sure that I have read the pupil’s version of how they could distract the teacher from their lessons, but I can’t recall ever hearing the teacher’s perspective, as we have here with Mrs B in ‘Transit of Mercury”.

Although all of the nineteen stories in the collection feel different, I did begin to notice that some of the character names appear more than once. As if we pop in and out of their lives at different points. Jake Lazarus appears early in the book as an aging widower who befriends a young girl who comes to hide in his woodshed. Before long she is helping him in the garden and sharing meals. Jake appears again at the end of the book, but this time he is a young man, fresh out of school and making his way into a career in construction. Are they the same person? That is for the reader to find the clues. The fluidity of time is one of the pleasures of the stories – they float in an indeterminate period during the last thirty or forty years, and at one point even leap back into early New Zealand history.

Part of my personal enjoyment came from knowledge of some of the settings and locations – Warkworth, Wellsford, Maungaturoto and Whangerai all feature. Even Mount Tamahunga, which I climbed many times with my daughter when we lived nearby. Knowing them all makes it easy to conjure up mental pictures, adding richness to the stories.

One or two of these pieces will stick in my mind for some time, their characters haunting me because of both their depth and also their sadness. I particularly loved ‘Too Much of Nothing’ in which the glamorous Mercedes washes up in Maungaturoto, where she not only breathes life into the hapless Frank who runs the car wrecking yard, but also brightens the local tavern with Friday and Saturday night honky-tonk renditions. Suddenly the pub is full, a new chef is needed and even business at the car wreckers is picking up.

The other stand out was ‘Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV’ in which Purchase uses the formula of words from Donald Trump’s mental health check as a way into the different narrators in the story of a drug-addicted daughter returning home to the support of her family. The mother and the step-dad struggling to find a solution. I particularly liked the skill in which she portrayed the step-dad, always trying his best, but sometimes feeling on the outside, slightly remote:

“The man replaced the alcohol as soon as his partner asked him to. Even if it meant a last minute dash to the liquor store just before closing time. He swept up after the girl when she stubbed cigarette after cigarette out on the railing, discarding her butts across the deck. He picked up her empties and carried the recycling bin, overflowing with empty Cody’s cans, to the kerb as fast as she filled them.

He felt as if he were playing a bit part in a horror movie – as if his reactions to the main storyline were a foil, intended to reflect just how much could go wrong in someone else’s life.”

I love that all these stories are not as simple as they may first appear, but ring with a depth of experience and understanding. Rich with detail and emotion.

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Published by 99% Press


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