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Heavy Load


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by Biff Mitchell

Biff Mitchell's Heavy Load is subtitled "A Laundromance", which led me to expect some kind of humorous boy-meets-girl-sitting-in-laundrette story, but there's an additional twist. The narrator is Janie's laundrette itself - or laundromat, as they are called in America and presumably also in Australia, where this book was published. The name of this particular laundromat is "The Washing Green", and it begins its tale with a guided tour of itself, bright with humour and personality, catching the reader's attention immediately, as it describes its interior layout and 130 industrial-grade washing machines:. "the business end of me, le raison de laundroetre"

With such a beginning, you can't help but read on. Incidentally, the laundrette is called The Washing Green, because, unlike such establishments in the UK, it's in a part of the world that has such good weather that people can sit outside while waiting for their washing to dry. It's another variation on the "Grand Hotel" theme - people come, people go, it seems like nothing ever happens but, of course, plenty does. If you can accept the unfashionable idea that ordinary, everyday life is worth observing, you'll enjoy this story and the way it is told.

Yet it's not quite the fairytale it at first appears. Before the end of the first chapter, there's a change in mood, a hint of something dark and threatening, as the Washing Green reveals that, not only is it aware of everything that goes on inside its four walls, but it can also read human minds. In case we should tire of the novelty of the non-human narration, the author avoids revealing his hand all in one go, keeping back little titbits, so that each chapter becomes a mini-cliffhanger. That's what makes this a real page-turner (and I was reading it in electronic format).

I ought also to mention that it's explicit in parts, and perhaps a few readers who go into it expecting a simple, innocent love story are potentially going to be shocked by what they read. On the other hand, it's a human story. The laundromat has sympathy for most of its customers, and expends considerable electrical energy investigating their innermost thoughts, seeking solutions to their problems and offering advice which, naturally, they ignore. The human problems are mostly sexual ones, deeply rooted in the childhood and subconscious of their owners, which I think is a pity. I'd begun to expect something more original, and I'm sure the author could have delivered it if he'd tried.

The characterisation and dialogue, however, are excellent. Not that the characters say much to one another while doing their washing; they spend most of their waiting time just pondering on the shortcomings of their personal lives. The outwardly tough but inwardly tormented Baxter, the outwardly sexy but inwardly insecure Hillary, and the outwardly nerdish and inwardly nerdish Jeffry form an eternal triangle whose complexities maintain their momentum until, eventually, some kind of relationship is forged, some kind of catharsis achieved. For the laundry, of course, is a metaphor for the cleaning-up of soiled lives.

The lively writing is kept up throughout the book, and we can forgive the odd typo that crops up. After all, it's not every day you come across a self-published novel that's really worth the cover price. This, I'm happy to say, is one of the exceptions that proves the rule.

heavyload.gif

ISBN 1 74053 072 1

Published by Jacobyte Books, 2001

156pp, paperback or e-book

Retail price $5.35

www.jacobytebooks.com

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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