Summer Reads: Victory Park
It's the perfect time of year to discover or reacquaint yourself with one of our many incredibly talented New Zealand authors.
But where to start? Dina Jezdic has you covered - reviewing four local writers for you to look to for summer entertainment - starting with Rachel Kerr's Victory Park.
It’s a rare book that can draw you deep into a character whose surface is made up of all things unremarkable, living the most uninspiring life. Kara and her son Jayden live alone in Victory Park council flats. Everything about their lives is ordinary except for the pragmatic existence on a budget that stretches barely to the excitement of fish and chips dinner on a special occasion.
“Kara liked the shared playground best at dusk, when she could smoke without being told off and Jayden had the run of the place. He called it “Kara time”. She had no idea why he was using her first name – maybe he was just copying the other kids she looked after – but it was their first time alone together all day. He made trips to bring her treasures, an enamel bottle cap and a silver gum wrapper, still powdered and minty.”
Kara is a reliable caregiver, watching other well-to-do people’s children that she takes to the nearby playground. She lives a hobby-less, carless existence that often means long double bus ride journeys to her mother’s place and a small friendship circle consisting of other Victory Park residents. Virtually alone and all too self-reliant, Kara’s main solace are the nightly smokes and occasional glass of cheap wine on the fire escape of her flat. But this predictable life is about to change as she is befriended by the newcomer Bridget, wife of an alleged Ponzi schemer who injects her day-to-day with unexpected promise of excitement and glamour.
This is a novel intertwined with social commentary of have and have-nots and what happens when the two worlds collide. In her debut novel, Rachel Kerr succeeds in convincing us that heroes can be found in the most ordinary individuals and that being called ‘reliable’ is a quality hard to find. This is a dark and at times comedic story about life in the poor lane woven into social commentary. The novel’s main propeller of pace is a predictable pattern of rise and decline, belonging and unbelonging, with the undercurrent of unromantic realities of life.
“The clouds hung still in the sky – there was very little wind. The shadows of the washing waved gently on the grass, the relaxed welcome you’d give someone who’d never gone away.”
Kerr succeeds in showing us the window into the realities of those with and without privilege using the power of humour to lighten the load of the parts that are perhaps the most real of all. Victory Park is genuine in portraying underrepresented communities that are striving with little means without evoking any pity from the reader. It leads me to believe that the author, apart from writing from her own imagination, might have enough lived experience or at least personal association with the world of life on the margins.
Victory Park, by Rachel Kerr (Mākaro Press) is available from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.