Fiction – paperback; Text; 183 pages; 2019.
Carrie Tiffany’s third novel, Exploded View, is a strangely hypnotic story about a teenage girl in the 1970s plotting to get the better of the man who has become her stepfather.
At its most base level, it is a tale of child sexual abuse, albeit done in a subtle, nuanced way (many of the references are elliptical rather than direct), but it’s also a powerful tale of a teenager taking control of her life in the only way she feels is open to her: by sabotaging the car engines her “man father” works on for a living.
It is a book ripe with metaphors and euphemisms. Cars and their mechanical workings feature heavily. The girl’s “man father” runs an unlicensed automotive workshop at the back of the house and she’s often called upon to help out.
Small acts of defiance
In the evenings, she climbs out her bedroom window and tinkers with the engines, removing hidden screws or putting grit in places it shouldn’t go, in the hope this will ruin her man father’s reputation. She even takes various cars on evening joy rides, pushing the vehicles out of hearing distance before turning the key. On weekdays she breaks into a neighbour’s house and makes herself at home, often eating the “fat lady’s” food or watching her TV. It’s hard not to see these acts of defiance as a call for help,.
The girl knows a lot about engines and studies Scientific Publications Holden Workshop Manual Series No. 15, which is secretly hidden under her bed. It is the exploded view diagrams, those that show the spaces between the parts and how they fit together, that she likes best.
It’s hard not to read the descriptions of the way engine parts slide together and move about as thinly disguised euphemisms for sexual acts. Even the bits that explain how to take things apart appear to mirror the pain and hurt that the girl is so carefully disguising.
Any engine can be stripped down and reassembled if you know how. When a human body is taken apart there’s no way it can ever be put back together again.
But for all her acts of defiance, the girl is introverted and quiet, she remains mute for 60 days and watches TV shows — Mash, Matlock, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch et al — to figure out how a girl should act.
She should be cautious, but a girl should not be silent. She should have a voice that tinkles like a bell. Words are made in the head and sent down to the throat for speaking. It happens instantly. Except when a part is broken and the words go around and around inside instead. If they ever found their way out who knows what mess they would make?
A story in three parts
The novel is structured in three parts, one of which describes an agonisingly long road trip — “Eight days in the car. Three days in the house of father man’s friend. Eight days home again” — from the west coast of Australia to the east coast. It is during this journey that the girl feels safe, no doubt because there is never any alone time with her father man; her mother and her brother are always in the car with them.
This trip, detailed in delicious vignettes, is rich with feeling — of claustrophobia, of frustration, of fear — and is littered with descriptions of death — of roadkill, of foxes hung up on fences, of road traffic accidents — but there are also some moments of joy and humour.
When a mother needs to go to the toilet a place has to be found with trees and bushes and everyone has to stay in the car and pretend it isn’t happening. The mother walks in a long way through the bushes, placing her feet carefully between the clumps of grass in case of snakes. It takes a long time. Once, when my mother barely had her legs back in the car, father man drove off because he could see a caravan coming up from behind.
The story culminates in a not unexpected tragedy, highlighting how crimes of trespass — whether human or otherwise — can have long-lasting, devastating consequences.
Exploded View has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; the 2019 NIB Waverley Literary Award; the 2020 Booktopia Favourite Australian Book; Literary Fiction Book of the Year at the 2020 Australian Book Industry Awards; the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award; and the 2020 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. It won The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award at the Queensland Literary Awards last year.
Please note, it does not appear to be available outside of Australia but it can be ordered direct from the publisher for a flat overseas shipping fee.
This is my 8th book for #AWW2020, my 4th for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award and my 18th book for #TBR2020 in which I plan to read 20 books from my TBR between 1 January and 30 June. I bought my copy secondhand last September.