‘When you are introverted and the person with the head in the book you are the observer.’
In my head I have a rough bucket list for the years I have remaining – mainly consisting of places I’d like to see, or experience, before I die. I know most of that list will never be realised and I can’t say I’m losing a great deal of sleep over that fact. If they happen, great. If not, well, so be it. But I can guarantee one sojourn that would never be even remotely figuring on my wish list and that would be to visit Las Vegas. Imagine – Crown Casino a hundred times over. That would be my notion of hell. From what I can discern it is, more or less, a plastic, artificial, hyperactive 24/7 abomination in a desert wasteland. Reading Kirsten Tranter’s ‘A Common Loss’ only reinforced that view.
I read this bi-continental author’s first tome, ‘Legacy’, long after it was first published, more than a decade ago – and I was mightily impressed. It centred on the death of a young Aussie lass in the US; presumably a victim of the September 11 attacks. For some back home that explanation wasn’t quite enough, resulting in a Sydneyite devoting herself to a bit of sleuthing around NYC to find what really happened.
Tranter’s world had also been affected by death before the scribing of that novel, losing two souls she was close to. And death also features prominently in the two follow-ups to her novice product, ‘A Common Loss’ and her latest, ‘Hold’.
For this Sydney raised writer, now a resident of California due to her marriage to an academic tenured there, the death of a mate again forms the fulcrum to her sophomore publication. Unlike ‘Legacy’, which moved back and forth across the Pacific, this one is set entirely in Trumpland; for the most part in the gambling capital of the planet. Four friends, tied to each other from way, way back, are continuing on with their tradition of having an annual blow-out in Sin City. This year, though, it is a little different – they used to be five. The gel that held them together, Dylan, is missing – recently killed in a traffic accident. This also bought back memories of another near death experience for them involving an automobile bingle avoiding a deer – one that also was not quite as it seems. As it turns out, it’s just one of the issues the group have had that needed Dylan’s ability as a fixer to sort out. All these secrets do come back to bite the foursome on the bum as mysterious envelopes start to arrive during the Vegas stay. Seems Dylan had a few secrets of his own too. For Elliott, our narrator, matters are complicated by his developing feelings for the only female to be invited along on any of their reunions. She diverts him from his mates and from sorting out the major conundrum that arises.
It’s a sign of a competent writer that Tranter can maintain a connection with the reader despite the latter being unable to form any affection for a single one of the participants involved. In this there is a whiff of ‘The Slap’ about it, but despite her formidable wordsmithery, she doesn’t quite pull if off as well as Tsiolkas managed. The novel also dips it’s lid to Tennyson’s ‘In Memorium’. It would be an overstatement to say that ‘A Common Loss’ is as arid as the desert surrounding the city it is set in – Tranter is too good a writer for that, but of her three offerings, this would reside at the bottom of the pile – a pile that I hope will much heighten, given time.
To my mind ‘Hold’ made for a better product with a more accessible selection of protagonists. Here she returns to Oz to tell the tale of former artist Shelley who, three years previously, had lost her soul mate, Conrad. He went surfing one day and didn’t return. Now she and her new partner have just taken possession of a Paddington pad, semi-detached, as our heroine tries to put her past behind her. She soon realises that, despite a new man, she is still grieving for the loss of her former lover. Then two mysteries enter her life. Firstly she becomes drawn to a guy who so resembles Conrad it is uncanny. Then, on opening a closet, she notices a door which, after some difficulty, she manages to open. She is soon stepping into a secret room. It is just the place to provide her with a refuge – and a comfortable location to have her way with Conrad’s doppelganger. It’s all very intriguing. And where do her neighbours fit into the picture as far as the room is concerned and just how real, in fact, is her mystery man? And then there’s her new partner’s daughter, a stroppy teen, to worry about developing a relationship with.
The author is the offspring of esteemed poet John Tranter and a literary agent mother. Kirsten grew up surrounded by her parent’s friendship group of artistic types. She was shy and as time went on, she became increasingly anxious in dealing with social contact. As an adult she has had sessions of therapy, but as the opening quote suggests, she has also developed acute powers of observation which she puts to excellent use with her writing. Tranter is now a fine practitioner of weaving the written word into engaging narratives. ‘Legacy’ quickly established her credentials. That her more recent oeuvre has not quite matched her first up effort does not matter a jot. I will stick with her.
The author’s website = http://www.kirstentranter.com/