Debra Oswald (Penguin) 2015, 312pp, RRP $32.99
Debra Oswald, creator and head writer of the TV series Offspring, is just as skilled at creating character on the page as she is on screen. Useful is the story Sullivan Moss, a suicidal man so hopeless that he decides his only contribution to the world will be to anonymously donate a kidney. Sullivan is homeless, jobless and his only possessions are the clothes the hospital donated to him after his unsuccessful suicide attempt.
Sullivan has destroyed all the relationships in his life with his erratic and gormless behaviour and has nowhere to turn. His ex-wife takes pity on him and arranges for him to housesit and dog-sit for her friend Natalie while he gets his act together – again.
Sullivan moves into Natalie’s dead father’s apartment and sets out to cleanse his liver of years of alcohol abuse, get fit, get a job and nurse his kidneys to full health so that he will be eligible to donate, thereby making his useless life into something useful.
But, despite himself, Sullivan eventually manages to create a worthwhile life for himself: he has meaningful relationships, a great boss, and Mack relies on him for nightly walks and chicken necks. What will Sullivan do? Will he maintain the life he unwittingly made for himself? Or will he throw it all away, as he’s always done before?
Debra Oswald is able to articulate the touching nuances of complex people like no one else. She sees people with clarity, empathy and insight and can transfer this understanding into words on the page in a way that very few writers of any genre can achieve.
In this passage, Natalie finally realises just how wound up her life really is:
“Earlier in the evening, sitting in that warm, comfy pub, with food and wine inside her, moving to the music, her muscles had felt deliciously loose. It made her realise how tightly she held herself most of the time – a habit that had developed over a period of years, in some slow, unexamined process of constriction. It was as if she couldn’t allow herself to relax too much, as if the weak connective tissue holding her life together would cause her to fall apart. Now, lying in bed, she felt the relaxing effects of the wine and the music and the kiss fade away. Her body was tightening again, armouring up to tackle this life she’d wound up having.”
Oswald delves deep into that human connective tissue on every page of Useful. She creates empathy where you think there should be none, and creates characters you want to be friends with, even when they are falling apart and messing up. Oswald is surely one of the best storytellers we have in Australia at this time, and Useful is a book to fall in love with.
This title is available through the Penguin Australia website: Click HERE to purchase your copy.