Loretta Boskovic is not living the life she envisioned. Her two children are driving her crazy. Her ex-husband left her and is not spending time with the kids. She has been fighting for the preservation of her small Australian town’s elementary school and it seems as though she might be getting nowhere. Add to that a bit of middle age frump and Loretta has just about had it. But when a developer decides to build a luxury resort at the edge of the town and take most of the drought-stricken town’s water, Loretta decides that she is going to spring into action. What ensues in The Fine Color of Rust by P.A. O’Reilly is part comedy, part light detective novel, and a heartfelt look at small town life.
As a character, Loretta is a charmer. She makes references to sending her children away somewhere so that she can have some peace. She shoots off her mouth before she thinks and has to apologize later. I can relate totally. Her imperfections made her appealing. She is best friends with the local junk man, Norm, who brings her lemons and gives her a goat that she names Terror. Her relationship with Norm is heart-warming and touching. He is irascible and grumpy, but she loves him. He also gives Loretta some much-needed perspective on her life.
There are many subplots in this novel that kept me interested. Loretta’s children are involved in some school shenanigans with a newly arrived local family. Turns out this family is from Bosnia Herzegovina and they have not exactly been welcomed by all. In addition, there are some romantic angles with Loretta’s friends, Loretta’s attempts to find a dateable man in her small town, and the arrival of Norm’s long-lost son to keep things hopping. Loretta’s ex-husband makes a reappearance as well, and he turns the kids’ lives upside down.
The beginning of the book moved a little slowly for me. I was not even really sure that I knew what the problem in the story was until about page 50. Maybe I was just dense. I did get that there some sort of development threat, but I did not fully understand until it was more fully explained later. I had a little trouble keeping some minor characters straight, but mostly, each character was developed enough that I could follow the plot.
I found myself more and more charmed as I kept reading. I smiled, I laughed, and I genuinely liked the people who populated the community of Gunapan. The theme of this book, stated in a quote at the beginning of the novel, is that worn, imperfect, and impermanent things are beautiful. This theme resonated very well throughout. The town itself, while not new and shiny, has value and beauty because of the people who live there. Loretta, even with her frumpiness and her imperfect parenting is worth something. And Norm, with his love of junk and his messy relationship with his son, is worth celebrating as well.
Filled with references to Australia, the book was not difficult for me as an American to read. On the contrary, its references to the way of life in Gunapan just made me love it more. A great sense of place, a touching theme, memorable characters (have I mentioned the goats? They were hysterical!), and a down-to-earth protagonist makes this book a winner. If you need a light, funny, and stirring read, The Fine Color of Rust is worth your time.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina