In the hectic setting of Florida, USA, Kiwi author Chloe Lane tackles the complex psychology behind a woman’s intense desire to sabotage a life of comfort and content.
Sometimes we get what we want, and yet we can’t help but yearn for something else. What drives this compulsion, this intense desire, to burn it all down? In Chloe Lane’s second novel, Arms & Legs, Georgie Beard is trying to understand why she’s having an affair instead of sitting at home, content, with her husband, Dan, and their son.
Kiwis Georgie and Dan have moved to Florida, a place where “nature always found a way in”, to avoid falling into the trap they’d seen everyone else tumble into – a life lived quietly and stolidly, moving through the suburbs of New Zealand. There’s nothing gentle or quiet about Florida – instead, there’s alligators, coyotes and spiders as big as your hand, and despite Georgie’s fear of almost everything, she enjoys pushing herself to her limits. Perhaps it’s this drive that ignites her attraction to Jason, the librarian who runs the Music and Movement toddler class she takes her son to every week. Perhaps it’s her fixation on touching the festering wound, to see how much it can hurt, that keeps her doing things she knows she shouldn’t.
Lane’s previous novel, The Swimmers, was smaller in scope – a young woman is enlisted to help her terminally ill mother end her life on the family land in Northland – yet there’s the same laser-fine focus in building scenes with incredible tension.
When Georgie and Dan arrive at a friend’s house for a dinner party and meet some unexpected guests, Lane charges up the throttle of discomfort all the way. When Georgie blurts out inappropriate information to a student she teaches, Lane handles the moment with care and the perfect amount of cringe. One of her finest skills as a writer is never turning away from the more difficult or disgusting sides of human nature.
Alongside the affair, Georgie also takes part in a prescribed burn of the Florida forest. It’s during this alarming fire that she discovers something grisly, and gristly: the decomposing body of a missing boy. The metaphor for all the bodies, and all the things we love, one day breaking down and leaving us is hard to ignore, and Georgie’s maternal fear for her son is well-realised: “Life could so easily go wrong. . . there were so many ways for it to do so, so you should take what you can get.”
Lane studied for an MFA at the University of Florida. It’s clear she loves the place – even the less appealing parts, and she’s captured the rhythms of American language with an uncanny precision. She is proving to be one of the new generation of literary fiction writers from Aotearoa to watch – can’t wait to see what she writes next.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Victoria Palombit
Arms & Legs by Chloe Lane (Te Herenga Waka Press, RRP $30).