The narrative is structured around the two central characters, Tom and Julia. We see into Tom’s troubled mind through his slightly distorted first person narrative; Julia’s is distanced a little through a third person recount of her travails. She’s an unhappy woman, and a bit of a martyr. She has good reason to be miserable, but she’s got herself trapped into a habit of acquiescing to everyone else because it’s ‘easier’.
Her husband, Bryant, is the sort of tiresome optimist who brooks no disagreement with his self-indulgent plans. He swamps her commonsense objections with relentless exhortations to ‘think positive’ and ‘banish negative thoughts’. They have escaped to the unlovely rural town of Lovely to rebuild their finances – but their maxed-out credit cards have come with them and they are reliant on his dream of running a yoga studio – in a town that can’t support a decent café.
The dialogue is crisp and authentic:
‘Why don’t you plan a trip?’ he says, one morning after she’s dropped the kids off at school. ‘They often have cheap airfares on the internet. You’re welcome to use my computer out the back.’
‘Couldn’t afford it.’
‘How’s the yoga studio going?’
Julia hesitates, about to make up one of Bryant’s cheery lies, then sighs. ‘I don’t think it’s going very well.’
‘Give it time.’
She takes a sip of her coffee, lowers the cup. ‘Do any of the businesses do well in Lovely?’
Joe thinks for a moment. ‘The pub does all right’.
Lovely isn’t Daylesford or Woodend with a dynamic café and artistic culture. It’s one of those sad towns defeated by the drought and depopulation that are bypassed by the Hume Freeway altogether. And yet it turns out to have compensations. I’m not going to ruin this book for anyone by saying what they are because this is a plot-driven book and its readers deserve the pleasure of discovering all kinds of interesting rewards.
I’m impressed by Reece-Lane’s mastery of quirky characterisation, and the mature wisdom she brings to the interplay between her creations. There is desire, jealousy, discontent and love, but more than that, this is a novel about the vulnerability and passions of ordinary life that isn’t ordinary at all. If you liked Toni Jordan’s Addition, or Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker, you will enjoy Milk Fever.
And it’s very difficult to put down. I started reading it last night, and I finished it this morning, wishing there was more.
Reece-Lane has a chatty blog called Milk-Fever, but I hope her current writing includes working on a new novel.
Author: Lisa Reece-Lane
Title: Milk Fever
Publisher: Murdoch Books 2010
Source: Kingston Library