A new book, or novella as is the case here, from Ashley Capes is always a treat, so when he asked me to read and review his latest work, Crossings, I of course jumped at the opportunity: the core idea was as intriguing as the cover, portraying a kangaroo painted in flames – a sure indication that the author had based this story in his native Australia.
Lisa Thomas, the main character, is a woman leading a complicated life: she works at several jobs to make ends meet, also volunteering with a sort of ranger service taking care of wildlife. It’s in this activity that she first comes into contact with a series of uncanny events that will shape her immediate future and change her life: someone is killing wild animals, and in some cases leaving their dead bodies – or parts of them – on her doorstep.
As if this were not enough, Lisa’s abusive ex boyfriend is back in town with every intention of resuming the relationship, while her father’s health takes a downward plunge, with every indication he might suffer from Alzheimer. In the meantime there are sightings of an improbably huge white kangaroo that behaves quite strangely – that is, if one can accept the existence of such a creature – and a few shocking murders shake the peaceful community…
As in his other two shorter works I read, The Fairy Wren and A Whisper of Leaves, the author blends details of quite ordinary, everyday life with a touch of weirdness that here is a bit more marked than usual: the background itself does possess some sort of “alien” quality, given the great differences in flora and fauna one can observe in Australia, making it the perfect setting for an otherworldly tale, but the real mystery lies with the never-fully-explained circumstance surrounding the strange apparitions that seem to target Lisa Thomas.
I’m wary about revealing more, because it would mean spoiling the surprises in the story, but I liked how in the end there remained more unanswered questions than what we started with at the beginning: the beauty of a mystery, or a puzzle, lies in my opinion in the uncertainty they engender, not in a full revelation of what lies behind them. Crossings works quite well as a stand-alone novella, of course, but at the same time it contains enough core material for a regular novel, because of those unexplained details that seem to hint at a far broader picture.
There is also a strong sense of kinship running throughout the story, of a small community that tries to be supportive of its individual members and that comes together in a wonderful way when danger threatens it: this was one of the novella’s most appealing themes, together with the more melancholic thread about old age and failing senses portrayed through Lisa’s father. It’s a subject explored with a light hand and a great deal of compassion and respect, never once sliding into easy pity or unnecessary angst.
On the other hand, I encountered some difficulties in relating to the main character, Lisa: at first her troubles created instant sympathy, especially when the subject of her violent ex boyfriend came up, since Ben is a complete, irredeemable jerk, and it’s quite easy to loathe him and side with Lisa. But as the mystery became more complex and she started to obsess over the strange sightings to the point of shunting everything to the sidelines, even her pressing personal problems, my empathy took a downward plunge. In the end, it was this ambivalence that made things even more interesting, because a more straightforwardly likable character would also have been more predictable.
In short, this story a fascinating mix, one that will keep you reading on and make you wonder at what really lies behind it all – be ready to fall into its enchantment…