Darkness on the Edge of Town by Jessie Cole is a great little book. I really liked that in no way did it suggest that by reading it the book would change your life, or make you kinder, or improve your relationship, or was specifically written to appeal to anyone in particular. In fact what I completely adored was that it really was a story and not so much a novel.
I don’t want to take anything away from Jessie Cole, who must have put years of effort into writing it, but there’s something gorgeous about how underwritten it is, underwritten without going into the territory of the disingenuous. The artifice is in telling the story not in manufacturing a Trojan horse for either the exploitation or subversion of something else. It is what it is.
There’s a bloke who lives in a small town with his daughter and a woman crashes her car near his house in which her baby dies. The woman is fearful, running from some other bloke. The bloke has a teenage daughter, together they take care of the bereaved and battered woman. There’s some confusion and curiosity on the part of the bloke’s friends and family. His teenage daughter is watching him, closely.
There are several dust ups in which the awkwardness of the social rupture is played out, but none in such a way as to be deterministic. At the largest of dust ups the woman who has crashed her car and lost her baby leaves. The bloke with a daughter gets all shouty and aggro, so she’s gone. The quiet arc of this story is a beautiful thing. It’s not pointy or dramatic, and at the point it almost becomes dramatic it’s over.
I think what captured my attention is that at every turn it seems as if the story is about to descend into another captive woman/rescued woman narrative. There’s a touch of Eliza Fraser, or Cynthia Ann Parker as the interloping woman appears in town. A captive woman, a stranger lost and dependent becomes entwined in the doings of her new environment, which in turn is entwined with her. The bloke begins to love her, indeed his tenderness is moving, and this leads to some ripples on the pond. It seems, for a bit, that the captive woman will be rescued by the bloke.
And then she isn’t. She rescues herself. The apparent rescuer reveals himself to have the same frailties and weaknesses as the bloke she’s running from, and she bolts. There must have been considerable temptation to let the lovers become domesticated, shifting from one nuclear family to another. Jessie Cole is to be admired greatly for not giving into the temptation of making her story a romance novel. For this reason alone, Darkness on the Edge of Town, is well worth reading.