Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie (Text Publishing, 2015) was longlisted for the Inky Award 2016. I started reading before the shortlist was announced last week, but it didn’t make the final five. Don’t let this stop you reading Clancy’s disaster of a life.
“My face must be scrunching up like it does when I let my train of thought run me over.”
Clancy thinks her family is a bad sitcom.
“Join us tomorrow for another madcap adventure of simmering tension and broken dreams!”
Her older brother Angus is trying to catch the elusive Beast of Barwen in the bush outside town. Her little brother Titch has Shield Achievements to unlock. Clancy isn’t quite sure what she’s doing: mooching from Nature Club, to her work at the makeup counter, to unrequited love for cool girl Sasha.
“It’s just my default setting, I guess. Feeling like I’m going in one direction while everyone else is going the other.”
When Clancy’s dad is involved in a fatal car crash at his work on the local council road crew, things start to implode. He’s not sure whether his traffic control sign was set to Stop or Slow. During the crash investigation he holes up in the shed with the cricket. Clancy wonders if he’ll go to jail, but the townsfolk have already condemmed him.
“My brain has an annoying habit of removing useful information from its reserves and replacing it with, usually, quotes from Futurama.”
Clancy is the queen of hilarious one-liners, except when she needs to impress in conversation and her words refuse to co-operate. Clancy meets new girl Nancy at Nature Club, and despite their rhyming names, they become friends, until Clancy gets angry at her. But it’s ok, Clancy’s crush Sasha asks her out for Maccas, or something. With Sasha’s boyfriend out of town, Clancy might just have a chance.
“She has just experienced the tip of the socially awkward iceberg I crash into every day of my life.”
I was close to the end and I was surprised not much had happened, but I enjoyed the book so much. A bit like Inbetween Days, not only the themes, because both girls feel their lives are going nowhere fast. Of course, life’s not a movie, with a cliffhanger at every moment. We get out of bed, we go to work, we meet up with our friends, we eat lunch with our family, we live.
I wrote the above paragraph before I got to p.243. And then the big cliffhanger happened – that was unexpected!? I couldn’t stop laughing at the irony.
I love the cover design by Imogen Stubbs, understated but perfect for the story. Like Christopher Currie, I could be buried with that font.
Of course, I had to dislike something – the mention of Clancy being “part-Aboriginal.” Just saying something doesn’t make it so.
“Mum’s dad’s dad was or something”
This is such a throw away line and never expanded on. Clancy’s description of her skin colour is offensive.
“Yellowy-brown, made blotchy under road lights. Me and Angus and Titch have all got it, and it just looks like we’re dirty or sick.”
I realise Clancy is self-depricating in everything she says, but this has shades of the “unclean Aborigine” a past belief that people used to justify their intolerance and bigotry. Clancy continues,
“Neither one thing or the other, the same as the rest of me, halfway between nothing much and what the hell?”
Skin colour is a fact, not halfway between the (white) norm and something other. The inbetween-ness theme of the book could be furthered in a less offensive way. Expanding on Clancy’s heritage could be one way to do this. It gets worse when Sasha says,
“I’m like, so white,” she says. “I wish I was more interesting.”
It’s not “interesting” when someone is discriminated against due to their skin colour.