Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 1, 2022

Every Day is Gertie Day, by Helen Meany (2021 co-winner of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize)

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA), the peak body for Australian writers, has been supporting authors throughout the pandemic, because (as booklovers know, and hopefully won’t forget at the next election) creative industries have had next to no support from the Federal government) and they have suffered loss of income through cancelled events and travel, and loss of opportunities.  Amongst other things, the ASA has been running a campaign showcasing the new releases of authors/illustrators whose launches have been affected by 2021 lockdowns.  (I did a bit of that myself to support authors impacted by the cancellation of the Melbourne Writers Festival.)

Recent releases not to be overlooked are the joint winners of the  annual Seizure Viva La Novella Prize, Water Music by Christine Balint, (reviewed by Jennifer here and Theresa here) and Every Day is Gertie Day by debut author Helen Meany.

The striking cover art by Sam Paine gives a hint as to the content of the novel.  An obscure art work which gains currency because of the gruesome death of the portrait’s subject, gives rise to a strange fad.  The artist, Hettie P. Clark,  portrayed Gertie Thrift with pointy elf ears in a series of five paintings, and in homage to the woman who died alone and undetected for many months afterwards, her devotees themselves have plastic surgery to emulate Gertie’s ears.  It becomes A Thing, like botox lips.

Nina, who works in the Thrift House Museum run by State Heritage, is a Public Education and Engagement Officer.  She gets the job because of her unique skillset: museum, food and retail experience i.e. when she’s not guiding tours around the museum, or trying in vain to steer visitors to the Hettie P. Clarke Overlooked Artists Gallery, she’s making coffee in the coffee or flogging merchandise in the gift shop.  Like the rest of the staff, she has not succumbed to the fad for pointy ears, but the pressure is soon on.

Readers will soon recognise the Trumpism being satirised in this clever and funny novella.  A cultural brouhaha erupts when Elf Ear Truthers a.k.a. #GertiesForTruth protest in vigils outside the building because the museum has little to say about ears. Their ‘truth’ is contested by Regular Gerties, both sides engaging as keyboard warriors.  The official line treads an agnostic tightrope, merely pointing out that there is no evidence that Gertie actually really had pointy ears, and indeed an eminent plastic surgeon points out that it would have been impossible in the 1950s because the cost of such surgery would have been out of Gertie’s reach, even if there had been a surgeon capable of doing it at that time.  This does not satisfy the Truthers, who are convinced that there is a conspiracy to cover things up. To play for time, State Heritage puts out a press release that they are assessing the remaining artefacts not on display for any further information about the issue.  They lie: they say that there are 65 boxes when there are really only five.  The disinformation is so powerful that Nina (who actually saw the boxes when she did her training) finds herself confused.

Chillingly, sources to confirm reality have morphed from a real news service into ‘news scroll’, where moderators delete anything contentious within milliseconds.  Like Facebook and its algorithms, posts appear and disappear, but at least we can mostly find them if we search.  But we also know that Facebook and its ilk tailor what is seen by what its algorithms detect are of interest to us.  We know that conspiracy theorists never see the real news, only what is fed to them by like-minded souls.

On the bus after walking Mags to school of a morning I’d scroll through recent visitor reviews on the news scroll that tagged the Thrift house, to see what the previous day’s visitors had to say.  The general rule was if visitors enjoyed the museum, or were indifferent, you’ll never hear about it.  It was only the Truthers who would make a fuss, compose long threads tagging State Heritage and the Museum demanding #TellUsTheTruth #GertiesForTruth.  Despite the noise they made on the scroll, it didn’t stop them from coming through the museum in droves.  (p.45)

Ah, yes, the tyranny of the online review! From toasters to nail bars, cafés to child care, people in business today are bullied by the online review.  No wonder whenever we buy something we get emails imploring us to review it, a vain quest for balance, because the nasty reviews will always swamp anything to the contrary.

Smaller than expected, gift store had a good range.
Feel like I learned something, I’m just not sure what it was.
I was curious to see what all the hype was about, turns out it was all just that, hype.

Wonderful memorial to an extraordinary woman.  Absolutely fascinating.  I loved it!
45 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.  Thanks for nothing.
Unique and inspiring, can’t wait to come back!!!  (p.46)

There is one person who knows the truth, (the real truth that is), and that’s Gertie’s sister, who comes to the opening.  She promises to send photos. Did she?  And if she did, what do they prove, and where are they?  The stakes are high for Nina, because people who rock the boat get ‘early retirement’, and since her husband has lost his job because of a skin condition linked to his work, she has to be careful.  What makes her the heroine of this story is the trigger point that makes her share what she knows.

Cleverly punctuated with excerpts from the artist’s diary Every Day is Gertie Day also explores issues of representation and how images are manipulated and exploited.  In Gertie’s case, her face disfigured by a dog attack is sentimentalised, and the dog is romanticised so that the attack dog is a different breed altogether.

Definitely a book that deserves attention, so don’t overlook it!

Sue reviewed it too, at Whispering Gums.

Author: Helen Meany
Title: Every Day is Gertie Day
Cover art by Sam Paine
Publisher: Brio Books, Booktopia Editions, 2020
ISBN: 9781922267627, pbk., 213 pages
Source: Bayside Library

 


Responses

  1. Thanks for the link, and now I think I want to read ‘Every Day is Gertie Day’ as well.

    Like

  2. Thanks for the link!

    Like

  3. Glad you enjoyed this too … such a good read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds quite intriguing! And if both you and WG enjoyed it…

    Liked by 1 person


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