Gone, by Jennifer Miles.
Gone, by Jennifer Mills. University of Queensland Press (2012), Paperback, 320 pages.
Australian Women Writers Challenge
A powerful, beautifully-written story of a lost, young man hitchhiking across Australia in the vague hope of finding his “home” in the west.
Jennifer Mills is a phenomenal writer. In this book, she manages a unique style that is both lyrical and gritty, eloquent and full of the rough language. She is very descriptive and yet sharp and precise. My interest in her writing began when I read her essays on Australian Women Writers.
Gone is about a man, newly released from prison, who has nothing left of himself but a photograph of the house where he had lived as a child and some disconnected memories. Taking name Frank, a name that he found in a backpack he was given, he starts on a long trek hitchhiking across Australia seeking something he himself can’t even name. As Frank travels,the novel takes on a picaresque quality, although Frank is not a rogue and the mood is seldom humorous. Mills uses the road as link between telling descriptions and incidents that he encounters. Passing onto the open plains he realizes, “The fringe of life along the coast is embarrassingly thin.” The vast, empty land he crosses becomes a critical part of the story; “All of it as borderless as water. No one to tell him where to go.” People and events spill out as Frank travels like they were beads on the necklace of the road. Drivers take him forward on his journey, and residents feed him and house him overnight. Mills’ discriptions of them is precise. There is the man whose position in the car, “ a knee angled over the clutch, the little hunch in his back,” declare him to be “foreign,” the female cop whose hands are ten year older than her face, and the old woman whose conversation is incoherent,
Outside the broad country ignores them. Their words have no weight, there’s nothing for them to bounce off. He thinks maybe the inside of her head is like desert: a bunch of random tracks, impossible to figure out. A place without a map. Maybe an old ghost town.
At first the others almost take over the story, but Frank’s incoherent memories interrupt. As he remembers more, we are caught up in his past; his absent mother, abusive father, and with his mysterious brother, Jake. We question of who Frank really is and what has he done. His story becomes increasingly chilling, but Mills deftly provides an appropriate ending.
Mills has no trouble as a woman, centering her book on a male main character. I have seldom felt so much empathy for a character so different from myself. She is another example of how gender differences in writing are chosen, not predetermined by our genes. She writes a story that could only happen to a man. As I read I kept wondering how she knew enough of the hitchhiking world to portray it so well. She dedicates the book to “the drivers and especially the truckies.” I imagined her taking to the road herself, perhaps camouflaging herself as a man.
I cannot recommend Gone strongly enough to those readers interested in expanding their understanding of humanity and experiencing the power of language. But the book is not for the faint-heartedd.
Now I am off to try and find a copy of Diamond Acre, the other novel that Mills has published.