The metaphor of ‘sprawl’ serves Dutton well. In this brief, winding novel, she peers into the open spaces of a flatlined suburban life. The narrator of the story, a woman clearly at odds with her surroundings, begins: ‘This place is as large as any other town,’ not bothering to distinguish it further than that.
The protagonist and her husband don’t quite fit into the idealised roles they’ve set for themselves: ‘He is angry because he was raised to be a substantial Protestant, with stories of utility to tell the women, and relevance.’ Mostly, her husband, Haywood, just passes offstage during the novel: a closing door or a floor creak in the distance.
In the long line of novels about the vapidity of suburbia, Dutton’s has a narrator who may be one of the most likeable. Aloof and hilarious, she dissects both their lives with the casualness of a cynical scientist. ‘A lot of these dilemmas aren’t ever solved. They’re like rotting fruit concealed beneath their own sweet smell. This is further emphasised by Haywood’s new beard, which is representative of a lost tradition of safety and justice.’
Interesting insights such as these are interspersed with notes on the detritus of her life and a fascination with her cat. The reader, then, is invited to peer into the open spaces between the narrator’s sentences. Is there pain there? It mostly reads as resignation. Perhaps novelist Deb Olin Unferth, who blurbed the book, put it better than we ever could, calling it ‘a womanly treatise on suburban decay and fatigued love.’ It’s not that nothing is progressing, it’s that it’s taking a lot of forced effort to get anywhere.