What does it take to blow your house down? Does the big bad wolf need to huff and puff, or have you already invited him in to sit at the table with you? Or, instead, will the flimsy structure be engulfed by the raging fires that burn deep inside you?
Bonnie is a musician turned stay-at-home mum and her life revolves around her three small children and her husband Pete. Her sense of niggling dissatisfaction is magnified when Pete employs an old university friend, Doug, to help him with a job. Doug fills Bonnie with unease – he continually subverts her wishes while treating her with an overstated deference.
Small, apparently insignificant moments shift sideways, appearing as portents of doom. Did she really leave the backdoor open? How did her pot plant end up broken and dumped in the back lane? Is this the intricate weaving of a suburban gothic horror plot that will explode into blood, gore and bodies on the back lawn? The suspense tightens like the strings on Bonnie’s well-tuned guitar.
All this is overlaid with the small pleasures and petty bickering of domestic life. Groceries are bought, meals are cooked and there are the inevitable, perpetual arguments about money. Pete and Bonnie appear almost anesthetised at times and while this sense of numbness underpins the very core of the story, it can, unfortunately, distance the reader at times.
The story builds to a climax through some rather strange but engaging plot twists that include a Sydney gig for Bonnie with some of her old band mates. Leaving her family in Melbourne, she sets out on a journey that seems to be taking her as a passive passenger towards events that may just impact on her life forever.
This is an intelligent and well crafted work that will resonate with readers – it explores the mundane without being trite; it reflects the lives of so many of us and, possibly most importantly, asks some probing questions. How is personal identity is shaped and at what cost? Does being a wife and mother subsume all previous incarnations of self or can they all exist, side-by-side? It is recommended for anyone who wants a thoughtful examination of what it means to be a woman in the modern world.
House of Sticks is Peggy Frew’s debut novel and it won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Her story ‘Home Visit’ won The Age short story competition in 2008. She has been published in New Australian Stories 2, Kill Your Darlings, and Meanjin. Peggy is also a member of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Melbourne band Art of Fighting.