A New Tense (by Jo Day) is a fast-paced novel exploring grief, friendship, and the unavoidable distance created by time – between friends, between loved ones, between places and understandings of self.
After the death of her friend Pete, Laurie moves to Berlin. Life there seems great. Laurie’s in a band, and spends time taking photos and making zines. She’s keeping busy – with massive oceans between her and her grief over Pete’s death, everything is stable. This is all upturned when Laurie learns that her estranged mother has died – she returns to Melbourne for the funeral, staying with her best friend Jones and his family. Jones is acting distant, and Laurie has increasing trouble facing her renewed grief over Pete’s death, with his absence newly apparent in this familiar setting. Through a series of well-placed flashbacks, we learn the circumstances of their relationship and Pete’s death. Laurie must learn to navigate life at home without Pete in it, and learn that each grief expresses itself in new and surprising ways.
Set in Melbourne, A New Tense is full of recognisable settings, which has kind of the same effect as watching a film or TV show set in your home town – lots of pats on the back for knowing what’s what. The Retreat, Sticky, Bar Open, the Yarra – the rhythms of Laurie’s life typify those of Melburnian twenty-somethings, replete with house parties and bar bands, come-downs and fixies, and all those familiar landmarks give the story realistic texture.
I sped through the book. Much of the novel is dialogue-driven, written in an easy and direct style. Short chapters lead to lots of ‘just one more’, and made it a good read for my commute.
This is Jo Day’s first novel. They’re a Berlin-based writer, from Adelaide via Melbourne – I studied with Jo at RMIT, and was lucky enough to read an earlier draft of this book. It’s very cool to see this as a finished product (and my pride over their achievement is no small thing).
The quality of the self-pubished artefact is nice, with bold cover design that matches Jo’s zine style, and nice heavy paper. The writing has commonalities with the themes of Jo’s zines, too, including a feminist drive (”One of the boys, they called me for a while, and I wore this title with pride before I started to realise that they were excusing me from something that didn’t need excusing”) and frank consideration of substance use and how it impacts mental health (”We were just a bunch of kids, burned out even though we were too young to be burned out, talking about all the things we were going to achieve, things that would always start tomorrow”).
You can buy a copy of A New Tense through Jo’s Etsy store, where you can also pick up their zines.