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Posted on 16 May 2019 in Fiction |

JACLYN MORIARTY Gravity is the Thing. Reviewed by Sally Nimon

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Where is the truth? Jaclyn Moriarty’s second novel for adults pairs a single mother and a mysterious guidebook to deliver a story that reflects the lived experience of the 21st century.

‘Oh!’ he said suddenly. ‘Oh, you’re thinking it’s a metaphor! No! No!’ His face cleared. ‘It’s not metaphorical … it’s actual.’

So says Wilbur, the first character we meet in the pages of Gravity is the Thing, the second fully-grown adult novel from young adult author Jaclyn Moriarty. And this simple statement lies at the very core of this sometimes confusing, sometimes uplifting, always surprising story of Abigail, an unremarkable woman living a fairly unremarkable life. Or at least, that is what it seems when first we meet her, as she heads off for an all-expenses-paid weekend retreat which she has been promised will reveal the TRUTH (capitalised, in bold and italicised, just to make sure she doesn’t miss it).

Abigail – single mother, café owner, bachelor of laws – has been in receipt of random chapters of a mysterious Guidebook since she turned 15, a manuscript that appears to be a draft of an eccentric, if harmless, self-help manual, written by an eccentric, if harmless, couple named Rufus and Isabelle. Ever since the day a thin brown envelope addressed to the teenage Abigail Sorensen first appeared, pieces of nonsense masquerading as wisdom have continued to arrive for her whenever the writers felt like it. One month, it’s Chapter 192, in which descriptions of digging and shovels turn up rusty chain links, or shiny treasure, or maggots and skulls; next it’s Chapter 144, telling her to imagine she’s a bush turkey. The fragmented nature of the packages, devoid as they are of order or context, makes many of them bewildering, and bewilderment is a core flavour running throughout this story.

For, despite her background in law, which might be expected to keep her grounded, Abigail struggles to comprehend the realities of everyday life. Things such as the questions of her five-year-old son, or the way a stranger can walk and hold herself with confidence, or what other people believe makes them happy. The world, it turns out, is a baffling place. And because she doesn’t understand that world, she struggles to fit into it.

This struggle was not helped by a major tragedy that struck her family during her teens, shortly after the extracts of The Guidebook entered her life. The laws of the self-help genre must mean these two events are connected, right? So she agrees to stay involved, even after the weekend retreat, when the absurdity of the random pages starts to seep into absurdity of action, and she is directed to perform particular tasks with other people in the real world. Tasks like staring out of a window searching for non-existent waves, or standing in unnatural postures, or imagining a tree:

Wilbur is pointing out a long, low, brick wall. He is telling us to walk along the wall. Single file, we walk, arms out for balance…We are racing down a grassy slope, arms outstretched again, eyes tearing up in the wind… Wilbur wants us to play leapfrog.

As you may have guessed by now, Gravity is a strange book to read. The narrative veers back and forth, up and down, mirroring the uncertainty of its central character. At times it’s poignant, at times it’s confusing, and sometimes it’s just plain childish, rather like Abigail herself. It is a brave decision by Moriarty to write a book in this way when our culture is increasingly focused on eliminating confusion and complexity, breaking everything down to soundbites and adages – men are not another species, they’re just from Mars and you’re from Venus; or everything will make sense if you only know The Secret. And to be frank, at times the sense of aimlessness and bewilderment in the narrative makes it hard to stay engaged.

But Gravity is the Thing is far more reflective of true lived 21st-century experience than Married at First Sight, and there is a satisfactory payoff for those who persevere.

Just as in life, we hope.

Jaclyn Moriarty Gravity is the Thing Macmillan 2019 PB 472pp $32.99

Sally Nimon once graduated from university with an Honours degree majoring in English literature and has hung around higher education ever since. She is also an avid reader and keen devourer of stories, whatever the genre.

You can buy Gravity is the Thing from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.