‘A seven year old and his grandmother allegedly murdered by an uncle in Western Sydney – my home town. A mother allegedly belted to death by her enraged husband on the Gold Coast. A woman shot dead at a McDonalds nearby. This is not the Australian way. There is a huge problem lurking behind the front doors of Australia and its name is domestic violence. To me there is simply no excuse, no reason to ever hurt a woman. For someone to hurt a woman is a thought process I can’t comprehend.’ Michael Clarke, September, 2015.
So the recently retired test captain wrote for the press after returning from a post-Ashes holiday with his wife Kyly. He’s only one of a number of prominent Aussie blokes ‘manning-up’ to make their revulsion clear. Our Australian of the Year, the remarkable Rosie Batty, has become the face of this one of the scourges of the nation, along with obesity and the so-called ice epidemic. The latter two are newish and seemingly intractable issues needing to be confronted. Domestic violence has always existed and maybe always at this present day level – but that doesn’t mean it is in any way acceptable. That it’s being dragged out into the light and into our collective consciousness can only be beneficial – a start.
And domestic violence features prominently in Maureen McCarthy’s new offering ‘Stay With Me’. It is quite a read; quite a journey the author takes her many, many fans on with this.
Tess, emanating from a not entirely functional family situation herself, leaves Melbourne for a schoolies-type break up in Byron. There she encounters a much older man in Jay – he’s not a toolie as such, but is a local with similar intent. And he focuses on young Tess. He is quite unsavoury. We can pick it but she is too naive to know – despite her new found friends on the far north coast trying to warn her off him. With his car, a ready supply of dollars and attentive charm she is quite smitten and decides her future is with this fellow. Big mistake. In the blink of an eye she is trapped and realises too late his true controlling colours. A child, Nellie, comes along. Far from improving matters, Jay’s behaviour becomes more drug addled and violent – not only towards her, but the little one as well. Jay’s whole family is dodgy, but for a while his mother provides the only none-to-sympathetic refuge. However, a chance meeting provides the most unlikely of ways out, thus commencing a road trip back to family and a possible escape from the horrors of life with a truly horrible man. But can she really hide from her vicious partner with distance? Or will this new male, who takes her under her wing, cause more problems than he solves?. Can she trust any male?
Harry, who has the makings of her saviour, is somewhat battered too in ways – but eventually delivers her to the succour of the remains of her family. Now, finally, is she safe, particularly as Jay’s past has caught up with him? Even though she knows he’s under lock and key, his threat still casts an unnerving shadow over the remainder of the tale. The reader is fully aware that how it all pans out may not be pretty. We expect the odious fellow to reappear at any tick of the clock. In this case, fiction is little different to reality.
‘Stay With Me’ is compulsive reading. Previously McCarthy has gifted the nation the irrepressible young women of ‘Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life’, but as a character Tess wins our hearts as much. If the prose is a little over-cooked initially, once the novel is in its stride this scribe was reluctant to put it down. McCarthy has been a tad uneven in her offerings of late – but here she is at her out and out best. I defy any reader not to be riveted, willing Tess on as she, Harry and Nellie wend their way down inland highways to the perceived safety of the family homestead outside Leongatha. We all delight as her formerly estranged rellies gather around to shield her from her constant fear of her worst imagined outcome. Unfortunately many women, as scarred and scared as the courageous Tess, have no out. In the real world, as in the fictional, total safety may only be fleeting. I know this book will surely ‘stay with me’. In our current climate it is almost essential reading.