Armadillos are the ubiquitous roadkill littering the endless highways of the American prairies and in 15 year old Aggie we have a human reflection of this seemingly dispensable and inconsequential mammal. She is the daughter of an abusive father living in a “sub family” where any semblances of sexual and social normality have disappeared and been replaced by a silent wall of fear.
When the pressure of enduring this existence becomes too much she breaks free from the familial stranglehold and embarks on a Texan roadtrip which reveals the insouciant attitude of others to her distant and dysfunctional past. Throughout this loveless odyssey her heart strings are continually drawn back to her dark childhood and memories of Jojo whose lost and troubling love are relived during the nightmare of sleep.
PK Lynch creates a widescreen canvass of contrasting shades to evoke the emotional and geographical scenery. Varying complexions of brown wash over the barren landscape of the rolling, interminable desert landscape. This visually anonymous imagery leave the reader parched and defeated but in the distant horizons of orange and red the prospect of relief is offered tinged with further despair. All life though is relentlessly counter-balanced by the blackness of night and the enduring fear that lives within its shadows.
The absence of light reflects the utter loneliness of Aggie’s plight which only begins to lift when she encounters fellow vagrant Freak who is both her initial saviour and eventual mirror to what she could become. The unlikely pair form a sisterly partnership that finds physical roots in a squat shared with an assortment of the transient underclass.
Out of this group the physically intimidating Marj becomes a surprising anti-hero and surrogate mother figure to Aggie as the loose hierarchy of the house gradually breaks down amid violence and madness. If there was anything light hearted about this subject matter then “The Waltons on Benefits” may have been an apt title for the fractured relationships in the house.
This sense of an emotional journey of discovery inevitably comes full circle and ends back at the farm and a final confrontation with Jojo as her past meets the present in the hope of a new beginning. Ultimately, the author’s descriptive powers are clearly motivated by highlighting a very real issue and this empathy with a desperate situation is evoked through the tangible fear and frustrations of the lead protagonist as it dawns on her that a black and white response to her childhood experiences may not be possible, and instead there is a resigned acceptance of grey areas with chips of daylight that ultimately blur into further questions and no hope of closure.
Armadillos by PK Lynch (Published by Legend Press. Price £8.99)
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