Book of the Month: Breaking Connections by Albert Wendt
Our February Book of the Month is Breaking Connections by leading Pacific writer Albert Wendt, published by Huia Publishers.
Based in New Zealand and Hawaii, the story follows the lives of an urban tribe, a group of friends held together by shared lifetimes, love and fierce loyalty.
Having found their own successful paths they're abruptly brought back together by the violent death of Aaron, one of their own. Together they now must face a new crisis of revelations and truths that threatens to tear them apart.
The idea for this new novel had been percolating with Albert for several years. “I started writing Breaking Connections when we shifted to Hawaii in mid–2004 and have been working on it on and off since then. It eventually became a novel about a new type of urban family, a tribe of friends, set in Auckland from the 60s and 70s through to today.”
This new release tops off a busy couple of months for Albert with the release of his short memoir Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater and also being appointed as the new patron for the New Zealand Book Council. “The New Zealand Book Council does marvellous work in encouraging, fostering, and promoting reading and books. I feel hugely privileged to have been asked by the Council to be its patron.”
And as for the next novel? Albert says that he has been painting while searching for his next inspiration. We're looking forward to it already!
Albert Wendt is one of New Zealand’s and the Pacific’s major writers. He has published numerous novels and collections of poetry and short stories, and he has edited several anthologies of Pacific writing.
He has been awarded many literary prizes, the most recent being the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the South East Asia and Pacific Region for his novel The Adventures of Vela and the 2012 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction. His many honours include the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2001), the Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture (2004) and the Order of New Zealand (2013).
He is lying on his back in bed. Everything is phosphorescent white: even the pile of pillows at the bottom of the bed behind which the woman, in white silk pajamas, is standing. Again the fear is churning in his belly; he can see his naked stomach rippling with it, and he wants it all to be a dream as he gazes up into the woman’s slim face, into her unmoving blue-green eyes, which are as frighteningly deep as the Pacific, and then from her face down to her right shoulder and down her arm to her hand that is pointing down at him, with a black pistol gripped in her long-fingers. On each finger, glittering, are rings he recognises. He tries swallowing back the liquid fear that has surged up from his stomach, while he turns onto his side, his body curling into a foetus position, his arms wrapped around his head protecting it from the shots he knows she is going to fire. It’s a dream, he keeps hoping, a dream. He isn’t going to die! And he still refuses to recognise the woman. No, it can’t be her! No. But when he peers through his arms, he knows it is, and she is now smiling that incandescent loving smile she used to give him in the mornings of their early life together. Yes, Laura … Please! Please! With both hands, he reaches up for the gun, and screams into her smile as her finger pulls once, twice, three times. Thud, thud, thud! Sharp, metallic, calculated, unforgiving … And as usual he hears his own jagged screaming and he observes himself waking to his trembling body and bed drenched with sweat, and for a long while he just lies there staring into the darkness, struggling to calm his bundle of fears, regrets, guilt and remorse, as the wet sheets turn cold around his body.
This dream has recurred once a week, usually during the early hours of Friday morning, since he left New Zealand and shifted in to Mānoa. Why Fridays? He has pondered that endless times, and though that pondering comes with excrutiating remorse, he persists, welcoming the detailed pain as deserved punishment for what he has done to Laura.
They married on a wet and cold Friday afternoon in the registry office, with Paul as their best man and witness – he can’t recall why the rest of their ‘tribe’ and his father weren’t at that miserable ceremony. Their daughter Cheryl had been born on Friday at dawn, after a long, agonising process, during which a desperate Laura had kept shouting, ‘It’s turning me inside out!’ His mother, since the day he first understood what she was saying to him, ruled that Fridays should be banned because she detested fish and chips, his dad’s and most kiwis’ favourite Friday night takeaways. Most accusing and undeniable of all is the truth that he slapped Laura for the first time – and he’ll never forget the sharp echoing sound and feel of that unforgivable slap – after they got home from a drunken Friday night party and she again accused him of trying to make it with another woman. And so, as always, he continues to punish himself pondering the significance of Friday.
He is refusing to accept that one of the reasons he agreed to accept the writer’s fellowship in Hawaiʻi was to try and escape this dream, and the killing break-up of his marriage. True, it is a recurring dream, but each time it happens it is a new and frightening tide that envelopes him and he has to struggle, like a drowning swimmer, to surface from it, and, through his relieved mouth, suck in the lung-reviving breath of life, again. At least he now has a routine to cope with its after-effects.
You’re alone, you’ve been alone for almost two years. If you suffer any serious illness there is no one here in your apartment to help you. And this dream, this execution, you’ve coped with all that time, so get out of bed, carefully. Left leg out first; plant it on the floor. Then your other leg. Stand up straight, steady your shaking. Okay? Now left foot forward, then your right; good. Repeat that. You’re doing fine. Open the bathroom door. Right, now turn on the cold tap. Keep your head up; you don’t want the nausea to start again. Good. Now cup your hands and fill them with cold water. Now dash the cold water against your face. Repeat it, and again. Good. Very good. Now turn, strip off your ʻie lavalava, drop it into the wash basket. Towel? Got it? Now dry your body with it … Yes, isn’t it sweet to be alive; to have overcome your weekly death? So sweet, you can taste it in your saliva. And once again it reconfirms Aaron’s claim, when he was recovering in hospital from his first violent ‘accident’, that living at the edge along the precarious line between dying and living makes you acutely aware of the addictive sweetness of being alive.