New Zealand novelist Ruby Porter’s atmospheric debut novel Attraction is out this month through Text Publishing.
A meditative novel of connection, inheritance and the stories we tell ourselves, Attraction follows three women on a road trip, navigating the motorways of the North Island, their relationships with one another and New Zealand’s colonial history. In lyrical fragments, Porter explores what it means to be and to belong, to create and to destroy.
KYD MEMBER GIVEAWAY: We have three copies of Attraction to give away, thanks to Text Publishing. KYD Members, simply email [email protected]
The bach is a puzzle of corrugated iron and repurposed wood. If you squint, you can see it’s on a lean. It’s small too, only four rooms, including the bathroom. But the porch is wide and flat and faces the sea. A metal wind chime, hung by Helen, sings every time a breeze blows up the shore. And the sound of waves is a constant. It follows you through every doorway, in every corner of the garden, wherever you are. I tell them, —You’ll notice it most when you wake up.
To be woken up by waves. Sometimes, in Auckland, I crave it.
When I open the door, nothing is as I remember. The imitation-marble lino in the kitchen has been supplanted by slate tiles. There’s carpet in both the bedrooms and new suede couches that I’m scared to spill drinks on. The fridge is chrome and silent, nothing like the old one. The cutlery is matching, heavy to hold, and the seventies plastic tablecloth has morphed into beige linen. Helen’s shell collection that used to clutter every spare shelf has been gutted. All that remains are the intact ones, the model shells, occasionally punctuating a careful arrangement of coffee table books and glazed earthenware.
The sound of waves is a constant. It follows you through every doorway, in every corner of the garden, wherever you are.
The photo frame that used to house a picture of me, aged two, sitting on my grandad’s lap, now holds my cousin as he holds up a dead shark. There was another, when I was eight and smiling, in my orca T-shirt and below the birch tree, light splintered across my face. My legs stuck out in front of me as if they’re unattached to my body, still unaware of how much space I take up. But that has gone too. The whole photo wall in the lounge has changed: once a thing of pins and corkboard, now faces peer out of individual windows. Everything falls parallel. The only picture of me that remains was taken at my grandma’s. I’m seventeen, inside and in shadow. My crooked mouth and crooked gaze are only softened by a dark sweep of cheekbone. I look even more distant behind the glass.
—There you are, Ashi says, —in the left corner, see?
Ilana pinches the fat below my shoulder as she walks past. —Can we smoke inside?
I say, —Sure, but I open all the windows.
The electricity switch is on a board squeezed next to the kitchen cupboard. I start two rubbish bags beside it, tip and recycling. I’m really particular about getting the groceries unpacked before any go off. Too particular: I tell Ilana the tomatoes shouldn’t go in the fridge, they’re on a vine. She doesn’t unpack any more after that.
I remember one of our first dates, if you could call it a date, last July. We ghosted a party in Kingsland and ambled back to mine. It was the time of the Queensland fruit-fly scare. I lived within Zone A. During the day, you could sometimes see men in white suits, looking like beekeepers or workers in a nuclear plant. Walk a few roads one way and you’d pass a yellow sign, apocalyptic:
You are exiting a Controlled Area under section 131 of the Biosecurity Act 1993. Do not move any whole fresh fruit or vegetables beyond this point. Contact 0800 80 99 66.
—Should I ring it? Ilana asked.
—No one’s going to pick up, I said. —It’s two a.m. This is New Zealand.
She kept skipping ahead and kicking gates and stealing mail from the flashiest houses, the ones with the manicured lawns and freshest, palest paint jobs. The letters were from real-estate agents, just covert advertising in unmarked envelopes. That got to her. She stopped in front of a face-lifted villa on Williamson Avenue and broke the stalks of a fistful of lavender.
—For you, she said.
It was sarcastic, I knew that, but I thought it was kind of romantic. I put the flowers in a pitcher by my bed, after she’d left, of course, and kept them there until they lost their smell.
It was sarcastic, I knew that, but I thought it was kind of romantic.
I searched for something to press them with. There was an old lined journal that I used to write in, a draft of a birthday card to Nick on its first pages. We weren’t even in a relationship at the time. You have such a way of speaking, never saying too much.
It’s funny how we justify things to ourselves.
When I checked on the flowers, a week later, they had left an inky stain on the pages and some of the words had transferred to their petals. Not whole words, just fragments. Little stutters of unrequited love, spelt backwards.
—They’re beautiful, Ashi said.
But I couldn’t look at them without seeing that letter, so I chucked them out. It was probably the last artwork I made.
I still call myself an artist, and click Attending to openings, though I very rarely go. A guy from my year, Finn, landed a solo show at Blue Oyster. I remember Laurie lowering her voice to say it’s because he’s Māori. That didn’t make me feel better. But meeting Ilana did. She’s a musician who sold her guitar to cover bond.
Even so, I feel guilty around Helen. I remember saying to her just before Christmas, —Where has the year gone?
She stayed silent for a long time, then said, —I think you should start paying board.