Floundering by Romy Ash
Brothers Tom and Jordy are living with their grandparents in quiet suburbia until, one day, their mother Loretta returns for them, wanting both a new start and another a chance with her boys. She has no money, no job and no clear destination in mind save for a distant beachside caravan park. And so the small family head west, sleeping on backseats, breaking down, and stealing what they can from roadside servos, while it becomes increasingly clear that Loretta is struggling, and failing, to keep it all together.
While the premise of a sprawling rural journey may be relatively straightforward, Ash’s telling is anything but. The writing is visceral and observant, and clearly brings to life the intensely focused gaze of childhood. Through Tom’s young eyes, we are brought keenly back to an age at which physical discomforts, bursts of energy and moody currents dictate the rhythm of the day – a packet of chips filling a car ‘with the smell of vinegar and hot oil’, sucking all the filling out of a Caramello Koala, being unable to fall asleep due to the unfamiliar, all-consuming sound of the sea outside your door, while everyone around you nods off.
Tom’s relationship with his brother is also brilliantly executed, full of minute power tussles and undulations. Ash clearly understands the claustrophobia of being lumped together by life and by blood, and of knowing another person intimately, not by choice. Jordy, as the older of the two, is full of his own rage and secrets and misery, while Tom, still the innocent in many ways, flounders awkwardly in his wake. This dynamic becomes all the more apparent when Loretta disappears for a second time, leaving her sons more vulnerable to danger than she could ever have realised.
Floundering is a strong, resonant debut that hopefully signals what’s to come.
Jessica Au is from Readings St Kilda and is the author of Cargo.