Friday 23 July 2021


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Loop Tracks by Sue Orr   {Reviewed by STELLA}
What happens if your future is defined by a mistake? In Sue Orr’s Loop Tracks, Charlie is a young misty-eyed teenager wanting to fit in like anyone else. Relegated to the ranks of uninteresting and naive by her peer group, she sees an opportunity to lose her virginity as a step towards being grown-up. It’s 1978, and much to her surprise and the disbelief of her parents, Charlie is sixteen and pregnant. And the abortion clinic is temporarily closed due to protests and restrictive new laws. This is New Zealand of the '70s with its 'high moral ground' clashing with the progressive feminist politics for change, in this case open access to abortion. It’s a hot day, and a plane is on the tarmac waiting to take off for Sydney. Several women, including Charlie, on the plane, have scraped the money together and with the help of Sisters Overseas Service are heading to Australian clinics. Protests at the airport are holding up the flight and it is in this moment of waiting that Charlie decides to ‘keep the baby’ and heads home. Yet keeping the baby was never going to be an option: her parents aren’t progressive and there is no happy ending for them or Charlie, who is packed off to small-town New Zealand for her confinement, only to be further bewildered by the process of adoption, which leaves her empty-handed and without even a glance at her child. The novel swings between these crucial moments and 2020. Now living in Wellington, Charlie, a primary school teacher, lives with her almost grown-up grandson (who moved in when he was four), Tommy, and is negotiating his quirks, her middle age, as well as the year of lockdown. When her son, Jim, turns up unexpectedly to re-establish a relationship with Tommy, it’s more than a knock on the door — it’s a window (through which is blowing a gale) opened into the past and has repercussions. Charlie has kept the window firmly closed, and like us all has squashed down uncomfortable events and situations in which she has felt out of control. Yet to be free of the past, and to give Tommy the future he deserves and needs, she’s going to have to open it a crack. Orr’s evocative writing, particularly of the young Charlie, captures family dynamics, the impact of politics and social mores, and the concept of choice, in all its contradictions and strengths. She cleverly weaves a tale of intergenerational impact, layering the political and social expectations of both periods (the 70s and now) over each other while also touching on difficult subjects (drugs, suicide, consent and sexual behaviour). Here we have loops in various modes: the loops of music devised by Tommy’s girlfriend’s sister (which also highlights its own loop — the interconnectedness of a Wellington social scene with links to Jim); the loops of walking the block during Lockdown; the loops of the rabbit holes known as conspiracy theories; and the loops of time which repeat and can become knots — knots which need untying. 

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