July 2005

Arts & Letters

‘Road Story’ by Julienne Van Loon

By Tony Wilson

“Diana Kooper is running.” This is the first sentence of Julienne Van Loon’s evocative debut novel, and it takes only a page or two of sodden Sydney streets to discover why. She is the driver in a car accident that has left her best friend, Nicole Clark, wedged and bleeding in a windscreen. Nineteen-year-old Diana takes off, unsure whether Nicole is alive or dead, hitching her way to western New South Wales and choosing distance and diversion as some sort of panacea for truth. She stops at a highway roadhouse called Bob’s Place and starts work as a kitchen hand. From the frenetic damp of a city night, Road Story finds its rhythms in dry heat, big skies, diesel engines and the spatter of the deep fryer.

Van Loon’s eye and ear for the unromantic grind of the truck-stop is this novel’s greatest asset. It’s within this detail that Diana tries to lose herself. There’s the specials board, with beef schnitzels for $5.50; mysterious Andy, with his blue rig and sexy back; Nola charging through three longnecks and half a packet of Dunhills; Bob and his theories on punting. As Diana puts it, Bob’s all right for a boss. Or at least he seems to be until his trips into town become more frequent and his dog turns up dead. With each flashback into Diana and Nicole’s friendship a bleak view of modern Australian life emerges, one where poverty, loneliness, jealousy, addiction and death are road humps you encounter along the way. And if you keep running, as Bob says, “all that happens is you come face to face with your own shit, travelling the other way”.

Tony Wilson
Tony Wilson is a broadcaster and the author of Making News and Players.

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