A scan might have found the cancer now killing Daniel van Roo. Instead his doctor gave him 50 STI tests, which van Roo believes was because he is gay.If I hadn’t taken action and if I hadn’t seen a doctor then, you know, then where I am is just where I am. But because I did do those things, I am probably going to be upset about it when I am laying in the hospital bed at the end.
J. P. Pomare
In the Clearing
After his gripping yet slow-burning debut, Call Me Evie, J. P. Pomare is back with another compelling thriller – and it’s just as dread-filled. Told through dual perspectives, In the Clearing follows Freya, a wealthy single mother who leads a routine life in a small town, and Amy, a teenage girl born and raised in The Clearing, a secret community with many parallels to the notorious 1960s Victorian cult The Family. The two narratives gradually intertwine to reveal something much bigger – nefarious connections that span decades and leave a shadow hanging over the town.
While the setting is unremarkable – think “Australian country Gothic” – this is where the predictability ends. In the Clearing excels at taking the reader down possible foregone conclusions, then turning things around as soon as certainty is assumed. Much akin to Freya’s comfortable existence, one is lulled into a false sense of security until the horrors begin: first with a mysterious bouquet of flowers at her doorstep, then with the sudden reappearance of her ex-husband. As Freya unravels under the pressure in a bid both to deny a hidden past and to protect her son Billy, the reader’s paranoia increases with each unresolved act: who could be stalking Freya, and why? Meanwhile, Amy’s day-to-day life in The Clearing becomes conflicted as she and her siblings work to make their freshly abducted sister, Asha, compliant to the rules of the cult. When a sudden accident occurs – to the dismay of the cult’s leaders – Amy is entrusted with a responsibility that will change the course of her life.
Like many stories with a crime bent, In the Clearing is junk food for the brain; it considers how the madnesses of humanity, if given the right conditions to thrive, can become a web of self-serving delusion that turns outwards onto others. It also seeks to ask: how does trauma show its hand in later generations, and can one truly escape the past? The use of split narratives is remarkably effective at testing the reliability of the novel’s narrators and, as such, the reader’s own.
With this second offering, Pomare proves himself to be adept at crafting a tale that plumbs the human psyche to its most horrific depths. Both his books are testament to the fact that he could be one of the most exciting literary thriller authors to come out of the country.
Hachette, 328pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 25, 2020 as "J. P. Pomare, In the Clearing".
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