Trifecta by Ian Wedde.
Wellington: VUP (2015).
Pb, 176 pp.
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
The book is – appropriately – in three parts: Mick, Veronica, and Sandy. They are siblings, children of modernist architect Martin Klepka, who grew up together in Wellington and are now drifting through middle age, not very happily. There’s far more pleasure in reading these three wonderfully satiric portraits than there could be in being one of the people involved.
Mick (the middle child) was his father’s favourite (he says). As a child, he loved and abetted his eccentric parent’s practical jokes. These days he is a joke himself, habitué of the dregs of Cambridge Terrace pubs, addicted to drugs and sleazy sex, haunting the TAB with a collection of other odds and sods from the nearby streets. Sometimes he thinks about his father and childhood in the extraordinary red house both designed and furnished by his parents and now (inhabited only by Mick, though owned by all three children) falling to bits.
Veronica is a Hawke’s Bay matron, unhappy in marriage and successful in business. Her voice is dippy and distracted, ten words when one would do, traipsing after trivia and impossible to keep on point. As she puts it: “What you’re going to say sometimes gets itself ready first as a thought, then as words, and then comes out as speech. Half the time what comes out as speech doesn’t sound much like what you thought” (p 59). Throughout the book, the three different voices go their own way, each written in an entirely different key and tempo – a three-way noise that only rarely sounds like a trio, and which suits the book brilliantly. You can’t possibly mix them up.
Sandy is 0.2 of an academic (Plattdeutsch poetry, that coming field!) and a disaster intellectually and socially. When he and Veronica come together to take care of family matters (this is close to being a spoiler) his response is to re-examine his relationship with his father. Like Veronica, he emits ten words when one would do, but rather than floating through the sunny Hawke’s Bay air, his words wind around his navel in ever-decreasing circles.
Middle-aged children frequently look back at their parents; just as frequently, they fail to come up with earth-shaking insights that explain their own lives here and now. The pleasure of this book is that Wedde makes the three characters so entirely distinct. Even the anecdotes that they tell about their father are different ones: it’s all separate voices, all the way, and this makes a familiar situation into a different, more interesting, story.
I don’t quite understand why (in terms of the story structure) Papa Klepka is a refugee from Nazi Germany. The red house is indeed modernist, but its modernism isn’t as significant as the fact that it is a large, decaying house. Perhaps we don’t like to see well-behaved kiwi parents produce such oddballs as the three Klepka children: Papa has to be eccentric, Russian Jack at the very least, preferably more educated, but certainly not just Bert Bloggs. However. The attribution is a most worthy tribute to an amazing group of kiwis-by-choice who gave us, as the blurb says, modernist architecture and real coffee. (And don’t forget the chamber music.)
This is a very readable book. I enjoyed it on a variety of levels – and it would certainly be an interesting and provocative book for a book group, not just a solo reader.
Mary Cresswell is an established poet and science editor. Born in Los Angeles, she moved to New Zealand in 1970. Her poetry has appeared in New Zealand, Australian, Canadian, US and UK literary journals.