I can forgive almost anything in a novel when the ending is just right: pitched perfectly, timed flawlessly, and with a finely tuned balance between completion and a sense of more to come.
Waiting has such an ending. As soon as I reached the last page, I forgot the times when my patience was tried getting there. But with a title such as Waiting what else should you expect? This is a novel that illuminates a state most of us are in most of the time: suspended before some mythical “next stage” begins, while life carries on around us in all its tedium. It reminded me of Jim Jarmusch’s films – there’s often a hell of a lot of waiting around before you reach the end, and then the perfection of the conclusion makes sense of all that preceded it.
Big and Little, an unlikely pair (she’s tiny and he’s massive, a man who dresses up in women’s clothes), share a room in a boarding house. Little is waiting for her mother to die so she can buy a house of her own with her inheritance. Meanwhile, Little’s cousin, Angus, is a landscaper who doesn’t want his mother to get her hands on the money that’s coming to Little, and Jasmin, Angus’s love interest, is an academic who lectures in semiotics.
There’s not a lot going on apart from trips to IGA, squabbles in the boarding house and Angus and Jasmin’s slow and inevitable dance towards each other.
Fortunately, Salom’s idiosyncratic approach to punctuation and language adds another layer to the plot. There’s a poet’s rhythm to the language that carried me forward, although occasionally I was frustrated by the forced trickiness that obscured meaning and blocked flow.
The characters also helped to sustain me, particularly those in the boarding house – The Sheriff (the self-appointed boss), Tom (the creepy Jesus-loving former paedophile) and Dazza, to name a few.
Jasmin and Angus’s developing relationship is also beautifully paced – the jerky, stop-start merging of two different worlds and two very different people is perfectly realised.
Occasionally plot lines go nowhere and switches between points of view are clumsily handled, but when I reached that last page, the notes I had made of my quibbles suddenly seemed minor. This was a beautifully executed novel and I was sad to have finished it. EF
Puncher & Wattman, 346pp, $29.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 2, 2016 as "Philip Salom, Waiting". Subscribe here.