Deborah Robertson
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Buy *Careless* by Deborah Robertson online

Deborah Robertson
300 pages
February 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Careless.

In this delicately written meditation on grief and loss, an eight-year-old girl tries to make sense of the unexpected death of her younger brother; a struggling artist strives to venerate the bodies of the dead in his work; the aging wife of a well-known Danish furniture designer laments the loss of her husband; and a middle-aged woman grieves the murder of her only daughter, taken from her suddenly and without warning.

The novel begins at a sports oval in the shade of a Moreton Bay tree, straight white goalposts hanging over the setting and the tall spreading gums casting their shade. Here a group of children enjoy a warm, sunny day - perfect weather for a picnic. But events go horribly wrong and the serene afternoon is shattered when an angry father driving a dark blue Nissan Patrol pulls into the shade at the edge of the oval and demands his twin boys.

Pearl's young brother, Riley is tragically killed, mowed down by the man as he plays with his friends. Luckily, Pearl escapes and finds shelter beneath a yellow combi van. Their mother, Lily, unable to cope, is set loose, powerless to recognize the chaos around her, the police cars and ambulances, the "people's unchoreographed movements," the bodies of the children on stretchers and under white sheets. In the end, six children and two women are dead; only one child, Pearl, escapes.

Pearl and Lily desperately try to heal their grief as young, handsome sculptor Adam Logan enters their lives. Adam, with his "Bonds T-shirts and his slim hips" has, in recent months, gained notoriety and fame in the local art scene for his controversial illuminated death cast of a young girl who died of a heroin overdose three days after her sixteenth birthday. Called "Kathy", the installation is at once notorious and therapeutic, the work bringing Adam an unforeseen measure of success.

When the authorities decide to commemorate a memorial to the dead children, Adam is asked to submit a proposal. Young and ambitious, he realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to broaden his artistic horizons. Meanwhile, the vulnerable Lily cannot help but fall for Adam, entirely swept away by his sexy charms. Adam, fueled by self-interest, enters into the affair so that it will start something inside him, "something that will perhaps deliver him to new possibilities."

At first, Adam tries to be there for Lily's grief, but he's also after grief's artistic inspiration, determined to mine the sadness of the whole bad experience, "feeling its shape, its limits, its volume and texture and mass." When he asks to use Riley's ashes as part of the installation, Lily is surprisingly willing. Pearl, however, is so shaken by the decision that she ends up confessing the idea to Gus, her therapist, whom she has been seeing ever since that terrible day at the oval.

Two other characters orbit the lives of Lily, Pearl and Adam. Middle-aged Anna visits Lily to try to connect to her to her grief by showing her photos of the "Memorial for the Unrecovered," a vast water wheel built for her daughter. The aging Sonia befriends Adam, who sets up in the workshop at the back of her stylish house. A native of Denmark who came to Australia with her husband, Pieter, in the early Seventies, Sonia, now the innocent bereaved wife, imagines her life over the years up until Pieter's deadly heart attack.

While Sonia spends her days in willing seclusion, wandering the isles of Ikea and pondering the influence of her husband's life and work, poor Anna just can't seem to rise above her anguish and sorrow, frantically trying to talk to her dead child.

An astute observer of human nature, author Deborah Robertson allows her characters to face their grief head-on. Lily hides behind her affair with the egotistical Adam, handing over Riley's ashes, which she keeps in a plastic zip-lock bag under her bed. Pearl continues to focus on Riley, his memory persisting as a powerful force in her life. Anna's hurt heaves, pronged and bulky inside her, and she realizes that she cannot live her life exacting penance from others for her own grief.

As the story evolves, these people connect in unexpected ways. Central to their journey is the connection between art, beauty, death, and redemption, their lives symbolically tied together by Frank Lloyd-Wright's house, Fallingwater, built soon after the great tragedy that occurred at Taliesin in Wisconsin. Through this catastrophe, Robertson is able to explore the link between art and death and how art can make the world's agony and loss seem beautiful.

Written with a delicate irony, the author gets right to the heart of what it means to actually grieve. Only through "memorializing the dead" can there truly be beauty, and only then can people be released from their suffering. Contrasting the different ways we assemble our personalities from the fragments we perceive about others, Careless is a lovingly rendered account of how we mourn, how we cope with death, and how we live with all manner of holes in our lives.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2008

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