Allen & Unwin
Read from my local library
Anna and Matt were high school sweethearts. Together they had a dream of owning their own parcel of land, farming for their living. When they had scraped enough money together to buy a farm, things couldn’t be better, even though it was always a struggle. They had several years where the drought crippled them. then Matt was involved in a bad accident. Finally, the theft of a large load of uninsured fertiliser was the last straw. The bank couldn’t lend them anymore money and they couldn’t afford to keep up the repayments when they had no means now to get the land to make them some more money. It had to be sold and they moved into a small rental in the nearby small town.
Matt sank into a deep depression, his whole world revolving around the loss of his beloved farm and his financial ruin. For months he does little except think and allow the bitterness to consume him. Finally he gets a job driving trucks and Anna begins to run a babysitting service from home. They are no longer struggling so badly for money, but things are not back to the way they were.
It seems that the theft of their fertiliser was not an isolated incident. Farms from around the district within a certain radius are also experiencing a similar sort of thing – a quick, well organised theft in the middle of the night, the goods never to be seen again. Matt finds himself becoming obsessed with the thefts, determined to find out who it is that is doing this. He is the only one who has lost his livelihood because of it but it’s damaging people around him too. Somewhere out there is a criminal with a lot of knowledge and a lot of front.
However Matt’s obsession has taken its toll on Anna. She’s tired of the anger, tired of the bitterness, tired of their whole lives revolving around this one incident. She thinks that the way of the future is to forget the past and look forward. They’re ok, they’re healthy, they have jobs and they have a beautiful daughter. Dwelling on past hurts is only going to keep the wounds fresh and not allow it to heal. With such fundamentally different ways of dealing with the loss and misfortune they have endured, Matt and Anna are at a crossroads. Is the fight truly worth fighting for or will they move on separately?
Purple Roads is Fleur McDonald’s third novel and is set in rural South Australia. Matt and Anna were a quintessential perfect couple – they met when they were 17 and 15 and patiently dated through their teens. When Anna’s parents moved away because her father got a new job, Anna remained behind as Matt worked on a farm, earning money to put towards his goal of his own farm. When Anna’s parents were involved in a terrible car accident, Matt went above and beyond the call of duty to support her. And when they finally purchased their own property, things were wonderful. Hard work and often it was a struggle to make ends meet, but they were happy. Even though the book starts after Matt and Anna purchase the farm, enough of their history is given so that the reader can really get a good picture of them as a couple.
That image of them is slowly deconstructed in the months after the fertiliser is stolen and they are forced into selling the farm. Matt cannot get past the grief of having lost his dream and he has trouble relating to his wife and even his toddler daughter. He finds himself becoming more and more obsessed with the theft from his farm and the snippets he hears about other thefts in the district. He makes notes, he drives around searching for clues. Once he doesn’t even alert Anna to the fact that he isn’t going to be home and he stays out all night, leaving her sick with worry. He can’t understand Anna’s lack of interest in finding out who did this to them, she just wants to move on. They aren’t on the same wavelength anymore, they don’t talk.
It was hard to watch Anna deflate each time Matt rejected her, or brushed her off. But later on in the book the reader does get a chance to really see things from Matt’s point of view and I think that was an important part of the story. Without that, it was all too easy to just urge Matt in my head to “get over it” and realise that he had a family right there that needed him. But once I slipped into his head and saw what it had meant to him, what he truly felt about what had happened and the way in which he felt about Anna’s reaction to everything, I could sort of understand. I still didn’t condone a lot of his behaviour, but I found it more easy to understand why he was that way. At times I felt myself getting mad on Anna’s behalf – I wanted to urge her to stand up for herself! But I think that Anna wanted to try and be supportive, but she also felt that she had to move on for the sake of herself and also their daughter. They needed money, they needed stability.
Purple Roads is a novel that gave me much more than I bargained for. I thought it would be more focused on romance but this is more contemporary rural fiction, rather than rural romance. I didn’t expect such a deep exploration of loss and disappointment and nor did I expect the tight and clever plot concerning the theft of the farm equipment. That story touched me as much as Matt and Anna’s and I found myself praying that certain people were not involved as I made my way through the book. It’s a smart story pairing a love of the land with a sensitive deep exploration of the mental struggles that may come from losing ones livelihood. I’ll be looking forward to her next novel, Silver Clouds which I think will be published sometime this year.
Book #34 of 2013
Purple Roads is book #15 for #AWW2013!