Book Review: Edge of the Dreaming

SuzyAn Australian Memoir
by Dr. Suzy Kruhse
Reviewed by Brian Wright

Edge of the Dreaming is a remarkable tour de force of storytelling on so many levels—dealing with one’s roots, one’s family, one’s sexuality, and one’s survival and determination to make something of oneself… in a maxed out ‘harsh realm.’ That realm, where Suzy grew up, is what we Yanks sometimes call the Outback, but is technically the Northern Territory of Australia… as the old saying goes, “where men are men and sheep are …” well, you get the picture. It would be difficult to imagine more of a man’s world than Suzy’s place(s) of origin.

When I say Man’s World, I mean comparable to the reality of the 1940s and 1950s in the States—only in the Aussieland bush country, it was more like the 1840s and 50s, a frontier, women as property. Men worked and brought home the bacon, women usually vowed in the wedding ceremony to ‘honor and obey,’ meaning to keep house, bear and raise the kids. If the old man didn’t bring home much in the way of bacon and on top of that was cruel and demeaning, then a wife’s lot was unenviable even if she cared about the little ones. A very tough row to hoe; it’s hard to find anything in the way of her own mother’s affection coming Suzy’s way. From the introduction:

Aus“We can never really be sure with our mother. She has what the Aborigines might consider a Confused Dreaming,* always restless and wishing things were other than they are. Whatever the reason for her wildness, there is no doubting the story of when she was only 20 with me still curled up tight in her belly… and all about the Aboriginal girl in the bed along side.

“* … Aboriginal people believe that a person gains a ‘dreaming’ or affinity to the land, thus identity, from the birthplace (preferably the mother’s traditional country or home range). For them, we Europeans are without dreaming, or at best are in a muddle since we have come from somewhere else but are born on their land. Confused Dreaming is a term I coined myself to try and explain the way traditional Aborigines view Balanda (white people) and their spiritual quandary.”

Which also gives you an idea of what’s behind the book’s title. You can see from this simple passage how wonderfully in connection the author is with both her biology and her ecology. And how beautifully she submits her phrases to the eyes of the great universal imagination. In fact, let me continue with the poetic description of that seminal setting:

“The way my mother tells it, she and the black girl are lost in their birthing. Oblivious, even to the heady scent of the frangipani on that syrup of tropical breeze wafting through the Cairns Base Hospital in that little town on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, that day, the 15th of August 1953.

“Outside, blue-green dragonflies hover over the red-mauve of bougainvillea, but the young women don’t notice. Neither do they care that the ward is drab: cream painted walls, floors of worn grey rubber, metal beds chipped, and hard mattresses bound tight with crisp white sheets.

“The mothers-to-be are trapped in that lonely place where one thing ends and another begins. That time and space, which old wives claim a woman can never really remember once it is over.”

I have to confess right up front that much of my experience of the book is as its editor. So I may be a little prejudiced when I praise its literary merit. Edge of the Dreaming did not enjoy a particularly easy birth—author and editor had more than the customary spats and misunderstandings—but it’s a work of epic experience. One will search far and wide before finding an equal in clean, flowing, humane expression. If you love to read and you love people, this book will transport you to reader heaven.

An amazing feat when one realizes Edge is basically just a journal—a precocious girl’s diary—distilled from a series of often dismal or catastrophic events. As her father, or her mother’s next boyfriend move to find work, poor Suzy and her siblings skip from town to one-horse town across hundreds of desolate miles in the middle of a landscape that puts the no in nowhere. Despite all these migrations and rugged drama into her pubescent years, the resourceful and brighteyed Suzy manages to fashion a recognizable girlhood. Any WASPish (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) Baby Boomer from any English-speaking country can identify with her rites of passage through the rock ‘n’ roll ’50s and ‘counter-culture’ ’60s.

Ms. Kruhse touches all the bases and populates our reader-world with a cast of real characters, sensitively drawn, so vividly and humorously narrated that we don’t want to close the book and let them wander off into the ether. [One of the few more famous authors that has given me this feeling of connection is Larry McMurtry. I am immensely sad to have to leave his creations, because they feel so real and they add so much spice to my own life.] I confess that as Suzy closes in on 21 years of age—she has conceived Edge as the first installment of a trilogy—my characterological fondness wanes, but talk about entertainment value! What an amazing life!

Suzy’s father, though he lacks the gumption to keep the family together, has an idealistic and gentle side. In contrast to the sports-grokking, dissipative all-Australian male, Victor Kruhse doesn’t much care for the football or the gambling or the drinking life. He’s an individualistic sort who likes to professionally photograph girls in bikinis, collect Aboriginal art, and build flying machines. He bequeaths to Suzy a broad intellectual curiosity and spirit of adventure.

Suzy’s ancestors hail from Ireland on her mother’s side and from eastern Europe on her father’s. You will appreciate their pioneering toughness in a land that certainly doesn’t hand human beings the Life of Riley. Indeed, the natural elements or the sometimes deadly work of mining or hacking a farm out of the wilderness send many a soul to an early grave. I love how she breathes life into her significant ancestry, and provides photos for continuity. Suzy is a survivor… respectful of the stock she comes from. Yet a funloving, future-looking, and frank embracer of the hand she is dealt.

Edge of the Dreaming is a powerful, inspirational, entertaining, and informative romp in a land that still hasn’t been tamed… and a handoff to the next installment of Suzy Kruhse, Adventurer and World Traveler. Can Part II hold a candle to Part I? Candidly, I don’t see how; but I’m certainly buying.

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