Staying by Jessie Cole
When Jessie Cole is eleven years old, her father presents her with some baby mice he’s uncovered in their compost bin. She is determined to raise them, but one by one they die over the course of a week. Cole writes in her extraordinary memoir: ‘I didn’t see it as a premonition. That just because you love something you cannot make it stay.’
In the first paragraph of Staying, the reader learns that Cole’s father has committed suicide. Cole writes tenderly about their life leading up to this. Her childhood in a small town in northern New South Wales is idyllic – her parents have left the city for a more relaxed life and they build a welcoming home and garden sanctuary on two acres. Cole and her brother are allowed the freedom to roam, play and swim in the waterhole. Their half-sisters from their father’s first marriage frequently come to stay, and the young Cole is awed by their seeming sophistication.
Cole’s writing contains intricate details, and she writes beautifully about the unravelling of this existence. Her father’s moods change in response to another family tragedy, and his erratic and abusive behaviour eventually alienates family and friends. Cole does not sensationalise details of his suicide; rather, she examines her own experience of shock and loss, and the effect on her physically and mentally. The book focuses on Cole’s attempts to heal herself. She experiences increasingly debilitating headaches and finds a physical therapist who coincidentally also deals with emotional trauma. Through this trusting relationship, Cole comes to terms with the losses in her life. Another healing aspect is her profound connection to nature.
This is a tender book about family, loss and trauma, and it deserves a wide readership despite its heavy themes.