ZOË NORTON LODGE Almost Sincerely. Reviewed by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Appearing at the recent Creative Non-Fiction Festival in Sydney, Zoë Norton Lodge said, ‘I write with absolute abandon.’ She’s mastered the technique and in doing so, developed a distinctive, powerful writing style. In Almost Sincerely each sentence performs acrobatic feats to portray the everyday in delightful and inventive ways:
If you’re a forty-year-old woman with bright red nails and all ten fingers be-ringed and jingle-jangle bangled wrists then you’re Mamma screaming a fish-and-chips order to Dad … Little Georgia and I wave to him from the swing in the park across the street, and we swing to and fro until we get called inside which we know will be very soon for playtime is as sand through the egg-timer – about three minutes.
Her unique voice has developed through years of writing for performance, in part thanks to Story Club, the comic story-telling event she co-launched with Ben Jenkins at Sydney University, now held monthly at Giant Dwarf theatre in Redfern.
The stories begin with childhood memories of Annandale – of preschool and bullies and pet fish and wild possums – and move on to the struggles of young adulthood: terrible jobs with terrible bosses and even more terrible volunteer gigs, and the time her mother dowsed herself in petrol in a freak accident. Vivid imagery fills each of the short episodes, such as Norton Lodge’s experience with Bell’s Palsy:
Formerly, at the discount menswear store, I had struggled to move the acres of polyester shirts emblazoned with wilfully awful slogans like ‘One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor’, but my new face, which was essentially half a wheel of brie that had been left in the sun and dressed up as a pirate, seemed to evoke a level of pity which induced people to give us money. My canny manager recognised my newfound salesmanship and paraded me around the store like a curious street beggar.
The originality and comedic delivery would be enough to recommend the book, but Almost Sincerely also offers a cultural critique that encourages re-reading. The author manages to capture the inner workings of her childhood persona in order to expose the absurdities of both her own behaviour and the strange adult world around her. When one of her primary school trips ends in a minor incident, the students respond by laughing – at first:
We think it’s the funniest ever until someone says ‘bus crash’. Until someone says, ‘We’ve been in a bus crash. Hey guys, we’ve been in a bus crash.’ Then we realise we’ve been in a bus crash.
Norton Lodge is at her best when depicting her parents’ interactions with fellow Annandalians. In ‘Madame Guillotine and the Imitation Samoan’, she describes her parents’ behaviour towards the neighbours as episodes of Survivor: Annandale – an endurance competition that her parents always win, mostly because they’re the ones making the rules. After befriending new neighbours, sometimes socialising with them for years:
[her parents] … begin to scrutinise the temporary residents for deep character and behavioural flaws, possibly over Scrabble game-play, home extension plans threatening to block our ‘view of the city’, parenting techniques, dubious past, too-contrived Christmas wreath on front door, misspeaking or not bringing wine.
And who among us hasn’t judged our neighbours for a too-contrived Christmas wreath – or something equally inane?
Almost Sincerely succeeds in exposing us to ourselves with verve and wit, leaving this reader wanting more.
Zoë Norton Lodge Almost Sincerely Giramondo 2015 PB 216pp $24.99
Ashley Kalagian Blunt has written for Griffith Review, McSweeney’s and Right Now. She teaches writing and public speaking, and performs stand-up. Her comic memoir, Do It While You’re Young, is in search of a publisher. Her travel memoir, The Pomegranate’s Daughter, was awarded a 2015 Varuna Publisher Introduction Fellowship. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter: @AKalagianBlunt.
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