Loveland, by Robert Lukins • Glam Adelaide

A riveting, tightly written, dark drama.

May lives an unremarkable life in Queensland: stuck in an abusive, controlling, relationship with Patrick and a somewhat strained relationship with her son Francis, working reluctantly as a nanny. One day, all that changes when her grandmother de ella Casey dies, leaving May and her mother de ella a significant property in Nebraska. Patrick pushes May to sell the property, and so she travels to Loveland, Nebraska to organize the sale. What she finds, along with the house, is the dark story of her grandmother’s past of her, some surprising friendships, and her own freedom of her.

Robert Lukins started writing loveland whilst on a writing holiday in Nebraska, so sense of place is writ large throughout. He captures both the freedom and the suffocation that small-town life can provide. There is a particularly beautiful section where May and Jean, her grandmother’s old friend, travel around the county, using An Incomplete Roadways Guide to Nebraska. Lukins allows the women’s friendship to develop in and around descriptions of landmarks.

There is a darkness to the narrative between these pages. Coercive, abusive relationships seem to run in the family. And like many fictional small towns, there is one family that is to be avoided. And although loveland is not a thriller as such, there are elements of mystery and suspense. What caused the fire that burned down the fun park in the late ’50s? What happened to May’s grandfather Moses, who has almost never been mentioned before? And exactly what was Jean’s relationship with Casey? Lukins allows these questions to ferment just below the surface as we travel with May both geographically and psychologically.

Lukins writes beautifully, with sharpness and compassion, as well as appropriate wit. His characters from him are large yet believable. And he delivers enough description to comfortably set a scene, without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary detail. However, the choice of Nebraska as a setting is an odd one: not because there is anything wrong with it per se, but rather because it doesn’t add anything. There is nothing that happens in Nebraska that couldn’t have happened in another town in Australia. Even the fact that May has to travel overseas (seemingly for the first time) is not made specifically German to the narrative. So too, Casey’s fascination with Australia and eventual decision to move there, is not really explained, nor does it seem to form part of the spine of the story.

But whether it is set in Nebraska or Narrabri, loveland delivers delight upon delight. Australian literary fiction is in good hands.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
released: March 2022
RRP: $32.99

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