Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Australian Women Writers: Laraine Dillon's The Pitts in Paradise

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

In her sequel to The Easement, Laraine Dillon’s writing career has blossomed with The Pitts in Paradise. It is the second in her ‘Travelling North’ series.

Maggie and Max Stewart have resumed their northward quest to Port Douglas and beyond. This time they get as far as a beach near Proserpine, just near the famous Airlie Beach resort.

In contrast to the somewhat slow start to The Easement, the opening hot dream is followed by some not-so-steamy sex. A less than promising response to Maggie’s advances finally gets some poetry: “there was movement at the station”. But sex is something left to your imagination. For heavens sake, this is a family story. Even the roughest characters are only allowed to yell, “Oh, f..k!”. “Bugger!”, on the other hand, is quite acceptable.

Like its predecessor it’s a frantic comedy, packed with the kind of characters you would only meet in the top end. The undercover police are the exception. ‘Hollywood’ is not your typical copper from tropical Oz.

Mind you they haven’t even reached FNQ (Far North Queensland) yet. It’s just the Whitsundays. Anyway, it is still the home of cyclones, Ross River fever, the deadly stinger irikanji jellyfish, sleazy males and women with attitude. True to Laraine’s style, we meet a cast of hundreds. Very few of them are people you’d want to spend your dream holiday or sea change with.

The timeframe is a little mixed up. Narrator Maggie writes a diary entry for 1997 yet Paul Keating still seems to Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the banana republic reference is very apt. It’s a world of dodgy operators, especially their first contact, sleaze bag Toby Tyson, who has more than one proposition for the Maxwells.

We encounter lots of new Pitts, relatives of their former neighbours at Reflection Bay, and some old ones as well. They have charming names such as Moth who ironically is not a fly-by-nighter. All seem to have been brought up on kickboxing rules.

Reg (Pitty), the manager of the Paradise Cove Resort, welcomes them to the “Redneck Riviera”. He’s the kind of bloke who says “blimey” without a hint of self-mockery. Strewth!

The extended Stewart family and their allies create the usual pandemonium but they are much closer to the normal end of the spectrum than the fun loving, sun loving and sometimes gun loving locals. Maggie even gets to learn what a real nature lover is.

Laraine is a visual writer, of the action madcap genre. Her plot and characters emerge from a comic Australian cinema tradition: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle and Crocodile Dundee, to name but a few. In both of the novels, real estate plays an important role but so do weddings and funerals, plus lots of food and drink. Maggie says she prefers funerals. Coincidentally, so does Casper, an elderly local who quenches his thirst by attending every wake in the area.

Maggie is very politically correct. Must be her indigenous heritage. However, she is a true member of her baby boomer generation, being more PC in her attitudes than her language. The male gossips are allocated to the "knitting circle". Her idea of “dark forces” is an unusual one to say the least, a term borrowed from her bigoted mother. Maggie has known for some time that she has “a touch of the tar”.

With shades of Priscilla, it is inevitable that we meet Frankie again, the gay staff member from Maxwell’s restaurant. He’s one character who doesn’t get accused of being “homo faux”. If you’re new to this terminology, you’ll just have to read the book or google if you must. There is also a new chapter in the LGBT story, with a lesbian couple joining the Stewart circle.

Maggie is a hoot. Or is it really Laraine, who shares much with her protagonist. In fact they seem to be morphing, as Maggie embraces the essentials of Write Your Own Story and becomes a diarist. Her autobiographical title is Once Upon a Dreamtime.

Maggie is also a bit of a dag, with echoes of Lucy aka Lucille Ball. She doesn’t hurry - she boot scoots. You never know when she might slip into slapstick or get tied up in some harebrained scheme. However, she’s not beyond a bit of self-analysis and wonders about her “changing demeanour” – what Max calls “mingling in something that does not concern” her. Fortunately, she is able to put her “new” attitude down to menopause.

Plot and character connections come together in Laraine’s signature frenzied finale, with a king tide of revelations and reunions. It’s a big, mostly happy, family that would fill several resorts.

Let’s hope that when the Maxwells finally get to Port Douglas, they are not too disappointed that it has more in common with the crowded Sunshine Coast than the tranquil world of Leo McKern in the movie Travelling North.

The Pitts in Paradise is just the paperback to slip into the backpack when you’re heading up north.

Thanks to the Queensland publishers CopyRight Publishing for the complimentary copy.

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