Whitney Book Bistro’s June selection, The Dry, is Australian journalist Jane Harper’s debut novel. The internet is an amazing tool for readers and at the start of the meeting we looked at some pictures of Victoria, Australia, including zooming in on Google Maps, watching perhaps just 60 seconds of a video about Australia’s drought[i], and just ten seconds of a potentially harrowing video of someone driving on the wrong side of the road![ii]Published in the US in 2016, members were interested that The Dry won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. In a video we didn’t watch, Jane Harper describes her writing process, from taking a Curtis Brown Creative Course in 2014 to motivate her to write it, through five drafts to bring the book up to its current 90,000 words.[iii]
Most of us did not know the background information before reading the novel. One member wrote from Alaska that she couldn’t make the meeting but really liked the book and was sorry to miss the discussion! Around the table reviews were favorable. Many read the book quickly and at least one of us skimmed ahead.
We liked reading about Australia but found the small-town dynamics to be the same as here in the U.S. The flashbacks were difficult in the audiobook, and alternating between Aaron and Falk in the audio made it sound like it was two different people! Someone mentioned that the author did a good job describing the atmosphere of the drought and another noted that it was a woman writing a male lead character. One of us thought the characters were one-dimensional, another found them interesting. We still wanted to know more about them. Would the principal really have killed people? What was Gretchen’s backstory? We didn’t agree about whether Luke was the father of Gretchen’s baby or if Falk would use the information from Ellie’s backpack. We shared some of our own stories about abuse, neighbors, and fear of retribution. Aaron was lucky to have gotten away, despite the suspicion that remained.
We agreed that the author kept us guessing throughout. One of us knew that we didn’t learn about the gambling until page 272! Another remarked that the biggest red herring was that the person who killed Luke and his family would be the same person who killed Ellie. Still another had been disturbed by the fire at the end but upon reflection and re-reading found it to be redemptive. One member read a descriptive passage that stood out: “Luke Hadler may have had a light on waiting for him when he came home, but something else from this wretched, desperate community had seeped through that front door and into his home. And it had been rotten and thick and black enough to extinguish that light forever.”
I couldn’t help but mention our John Grisham selection and comparisons with his first books. I am intrigued no one at the meeting seemed repulsed by the descriptions of violence as they were in God Help the Child or The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Is it the mystery and suspense that allows us to plow ahead undisturbed?
Before the meeting, the room was abuzz with discussion. An Australian theme gave us interesting opportunities for snacks. We tried Australian-made root beer and ginger beer (nonalcoholic!), mango licorice, chocolate honeycomb candy, and Vegemite on crackers. None of these related to the story, but it’s all part of the shared experience.
- Other Works Discussed:
- The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (2018)
- The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (1977)
- Law and Order television series
- A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (1950)
- John Grisham (author)
- Kate Atkinson (author)
- Tana French (author)
•Creative, Curtis Brown. “Curtis Brown Creative Talks to Jane Harper, Bestselling Author of The Dry (Part 2).” YouTube, YouTube, 6 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMvSU6M6YWQ.