Drifting by Sean O’Leary.
Montmorency, Victoria, Australia: Busybird Publishing (2017).
RRP: AUS $20; NZ $22.15.
Pb, 170pp. ISBN: 9781925585551.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.
Sean O’Leary’s fiction, non-fiction and interviews have been published in a variety of journals. He has published two short story collections, My Town and Walking and twice been shortlisted for the Booranga Prize for fiction.
Drifting takes place in Australia. Here the drama of self-identity is recast in terms easy to understand. The story is about self and other, each being separate, and yet in the processes of relationship with everything else – associated ideas that inform a range of occasions in the book.
It’s true of the book’s techniques as well. The story is told in the first person, driven to find relationships with others. The appeal of collaged realities, distant through they may be from each other, is that they suggest scenarios without authorial direction. The story references feelings and emotions. We feel sympathy and compassion for the characters and their story is a compelling one. The way O’Leary writes about relationships changes the object of one’s reflection, even as you are attempting to come to terms with it.
The hero, Ben, buses into town from Port Holland, a “rock-hard mining town”. He has very little money but manages to win a large amount on a horse race. Ben is preoccupied with his troubles and it is implied that we, as readers, are also implicated in that occupation. Ben meets an attractive young barmaid in a topless bar, where she is wearing “Light blue frilly knickers and nothing else.” Soon they are enjoying each other’s company drinking, smoking, walking on the beach, swimming and discussing their love of books and films.
Drifting tells the human story behind a man’s discovery of who he really is. O’Leary explores the interior thoughts, conflicts and actions of his protagonist and his final response to the tragedy in his life. The language is simple and immediate in the way it handles the story, as we see in this passage:
I’m sitting at my desk. I print out three pages on my new printer. Pick up my red pen. I remember this episode from The Simpsons and old Mrs Krabappel is sitting at her desk reading homework from her students and she comes to Bart Simpson’s homework and she says, Okay, better get old red out, and she pulls out her red pen.
The words captivate us by revealing the pressures that arise in an ordinary life before the protagonist can come to terms with what happened to him and to those he loved.
Drifting is rich in observed intensities, the words radiating out from O’Leary’s imagination and sensibility. Place, and the inwardness of place, human relationships, memory and travel are the compelling themes. O’Leary’s energy is engaged with the experiencing and voicing f the drifter’s world in all its joys and sadness’s, while love, challenge and disruption of lives are also elements that the writer explores. His work reveals a searching and willingness to engage in one man’s journey towards finding himself.
Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).