- New Animal, by Ella Baxter. Allen & Unwin, $29.99.
"There is a man with kind eyes and crooked teeth in my bed." The speaker is Amelia, the crooked teeth belong to a man picked from a dating app; he would like to talk, but she declares that "talking is unnecessary at this point."
After that promising opening, Ella Baxter's story goes downhill.
Amelia works in the family funeral parlour, with her father, mother and brother. Her role is to prepare a corpse for viewing, and she has a Certificate IV in embalming to validate her work.
The next night, while she is entertaining another dating app choice, her mother falls downstairs and dies. From then on, for 200 pages, the poor woman's family are all weeping bitter tears and trying to come to terms with their loss.
Amelia decides that she will not attend the funeral, and heads off to Tasmania instead to stay with her birth father, who is of course in tears when he hears that his former wife has died. Amelia decides that the best way to deal with her distress it to experiment with BDSM, an activity which is apparently catered for in specialised Hobart clubs.
Her dating app choice says that he is a Dom and she will have to be the Sub in their encounter. By the time that event has been terminated - not quite consummated, in case you wondered - she has welts and bleeding wounds on her legs and back. This is supposed to be comedy, by the way.
Not happy with her first encounter and still crying for her mother, Amelia decides that she will try out as a Dom instead. The poor man she is given by the club is subjected to treatment that includes menstrual blood plastered on his mouth and eyelids, before the people who run the place call a halt to the action. I remind the would-be reader that this is all supposed to be darkly hilarious; you are supposed to be amused.
What happens next is even less convincing. Amelia's two fathers get together and become tearfully drunk, before pouring rum on the lawn and setting fire to it, an action which is supposed to dry all their tears.
Grief and loss are difficult subjects at the best of times and are probably best left to people like psychologists who are supposed to be able to deal with them. There are times here where you could imagine a small group made up of those earnest professionals, joined possibly by a feminist, discussing the issues raised in the story. Modern feminists will not be thankful for the way they are represented, while the less said about the others the better.
The best writing in the book is the description of nature, particularly in Tasmania.
On the back cover, the book is described as "heartbreakingly funny", but it isn't.