Words || Cameron Colwell
If the point of good writing is to put into words that which has not been said before, Shaun Prescott’s The Town surely qualifies. The novel’s nameless protagonist is undergoing the task of writing a book about the phenomenon where towns are literally disappearing from regional NSW. Stuck in a town which closely resembles the towns said to disappear, the protagonist quickly takes on the qualities of his surroundings: lonely, caught in routine for the sake of it, and seemingly without a past. He spends his days meeting worn-out locals with absurd backstories. There’s the broadcaster who operates a radio station nobody listens to, the retired musician who drives a bus nobody boards, and the perpetually unemployed wanderer who wanders around with a CV in hand, forever doomed to an extended adolescence spent looking for a job position which does not exist – it’s a bit like if Tim Winton had a crack at writing an episode of Welcome To Night Vale.
With a straightforward yet magnetic sense of style, Prescott takes the literarily well-worn landscape of the isolated Australian town and draws out its familiar desolation to a slow-burn existential anguish that recalls both Kafka and more modern chroniclers of the absurd, like Delillo or Pynchon. If this all sounds a little heavy, Prescott keeps the angst at arms-length with a deadpan wit as he portraits the idiosyncrasies of the town’s tragicomic inhabitants. It’s a damning interrogation of what happens to a place when it forces its citizens into rituals hoping to make meaning from nothing, but it’s never didactic, and always entertaining.
The Town is the second novel published by The Lifted Brow’s press, and makes good on the promise for weird and thoughtful Australian writing. In it’s own dreamy, unreal way, it’s one of the few recent Australian novels that feels like an authentic depiction, rather than propaganda. For this reason, it’s essential for anyone looking for good local reading material.