TEXT review


YA verse novels: No chance of vanishing

review by Linda Weste

 

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Jeri Kroll
Vanishing Point
Puncher & Wattmann, Glebe NSW 2015
ISBN 9781922186584
Pb 284pp AUD 24.95

 

Imagine a journey; perhaps a drive on an outback road; a single lane in either direction and double yellow lines that reach as far as the eye can see – where lies the horizon; there the lines end at a vanishing point. It is a young woman’s journey, and her future lies ahead, though she cannot envision it – her home situation is challenging, and for several years she’s battled an eating disorder – but she’s on the road to recovery, or hopes to be. Vanishing Point is the narrative of this journey, convincingly written in poetry that is richly metaphorical – an exemplary verse novel in the ‘YA­crossover’ category.

Vanishing Point has three parts, and is, in the main, a narrative of loss. Indeed, for the nineteen-year-old protagonist, Diana, who suffers from anorexia, ‘losing is the most demanding art’ (10). But despite this ironic aphorism – which brings to mind Sylvia Plath’s ‘Dying / Is an art’ (Plath 1965: 17) – the protagonist’s struggle remains ‘real’. In Vanishing, idealisation of all kinds meets a tight rein – Diana’s recovery is not a given; the story pivots on this point of tension up until part three, when loss starts to turn into gain.

Life is the journey but Diana has a more immediate quest: she needs a stronger sense of self; why she seeks wisdom from powerful females of the mythic past. In Vanishing, Diana (heavenly or divine) invokes her goddess namesake, and her thoughts reference the mythological, the mystical. In these poems the use of language becomes most lyrical:

Diana, lover of woods and beasts,
above all, the deer to you is sacred –
with its graceful spring – and the evergreen cypress.
By day, slender as your arrows,
by night you swell, filling up the sky,
absorb the stars and give birth to chaste light.
Help me. Keep me constant in my quest. (35)

It is by returning to her childhood love of horses, that Diana’s quest begins in earnest. Diana reflects, ‘[o]nly at Gran’s I had the chance to learn / how to be at home in my own skin’ (43).  It was there, on a neighbouring property, she first enjoyed the ‘flight’ of horseriding. The poem ‘Astral Bodies’ recalls Diana and her Gran staring at the Centaur in the star constellation: ‘pawing stardust near the Southern Cross’ (40) ‘reined in ... ////... straining at the bit’ (40); a shackle to which Diana relates, and thus she imagines herself: ‘[s]wept up on the wind / from his swishing tail, I’d untie his lead. / He’d toss me on his back and we’d escape, /galloping out of our proper forms / into a truer astral shape’ (40). Diana meets Conor, an Irish racing horse trainer, and starts to envisage a future.

Early in the journey, we view Diana through the lens of her mother, Lacey and father Robert and from this construe the dynamics of their family. Still other perspectives of Diana – from Conor, Diana’s brother Philip, and Diana’s psychiatrist – enable composite constructions of Diana as ‘subject’. The story is kept energised by the shifts between minds and the choice of multiple narrators – rather than characters whose perspectives are filtered through Diana’s sensibilities.

Kroll chose to convey Diana’s interior world in first-person monologues – a poetic form ‘suited to her psychology’ (Kroll & Jacobson 2014: 185). The lines, loose in structure, are nonetheless honed, and strike a good balance between vernacular and poetic phrasing. The fifty-eight poems which present Diana’s inner conflicts predominate in the collection, as you would expect, exposing her attitudes toward her family members: her parents – ‘God creates all cuisines, great and small. / My mother’s body shows she loves them all (26);  ‘My sceptic father’ (13); her brother – ‘I feel the truth of his eager heart / that tries to love the world’ (19); and gran – ‘Now that she is leaving / my insides feel like a nightmare sky / emptied of its lights, / and hunger for her brand of honesty’ (53). By this, Kroll subtly suggests ‘how [Diana’s] outer life – family and environment – ha[s] brought her to ... emotional and physical extremes’ (2014: 185).

In addition to lyric and narrative poems, Vanishing contains sections of prose; these amount to approximately thirty pages and exact an imposing presence. There are twenty-nine prose responses from Conor, a half-page of epistolary prose from Gran, and six prose entries in the voice of Philip, Diana’s Down Syndrome brother. The inclusion of prose prompts the question – couldn’t poetry alone deliver? It’s a question Kroll perhaps anticipates: in a practice-as-research essay she states that each of the ‘characters ... demanded their own voice’ (Kroll & Jacobson 2014: 186). The affordance of prose is clear with Philip’s voice: for this Kroll employs a shift in language use: the speech becomes literal, stripped of the devices of imagery and metaphor; idiom is removed, and verbs of cognition are modified. With Conor’s character it seems less to do with voice, than a means to tell his considerable back-story – without making it the story. By keeping poetry in the majority, Kroll ensures Vanishing remains indisputably a verse novel. Vanishing is also resolutely poetic; its poetry does deliver.

Another particularity of this verse novel is that its contents page lists main sections, notes and acknowledgements, yet eschews individual poem titles. This decision foregrounds a teleological imperative – to propel the reader, without delay, to the narrative’s end – though it inhibits reading selectively, by poem-title, or the re-reading of favourite poems.

Vanishing Point was shortlisted for the Griffith University Young Adult Book Award category in the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards. Kroll’s considerable record of publication – which includes over twenty books for adults and young people, poetry, picture books and novels – is brought to bear in Vanishing, and the outcome is assured.

 

Works cited

 

 

Linda Weste holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne.Her first book, Nothing Sacred, a verse novel set in ancient Rome, was highly commended in the 2015 Anne Elder Award.

 

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TEXT
Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews Editor: Linda Weste
text@textjournal.com.au