Jean Harley Was Here

Loss readjustment: the after-effects of love snatched too soon. How we remember, how we grieve, how we go on loving when death appear suddenly to grab a loved one. Jean Harley Was Here but now she no longer is. The story is in the connections between those she left and ripples that spill from the body on the road.
Book Info
Title: 
Jean Harley Was Here
Author: 
Heather Taylor Johnson
Publisher: 
UQP

The web of grief that spins out from Jean Harley’s death spans from Adelaide to Hickman, Missouri. In Jean Harley Was Here, Heather Taylor Johnson has woven a tale of insight and understanding out of loss and bereavement. Jean is gone and the impact is immediate not only on Stan, her husband, and almost-five Orion. The impact spools out to her mother-in-law Marion, Jean’s girlfriends Neddy and Viv, neighbours, past lovers, her family across the ocean, and that’s just the inner circle. Heather Taylor Johnson takes readers back to the beginnings of Stan and Jean’s relationship to show us how across time and space lives are enfolded into a net of connections that casts itself across the Pacific Ocean and reaches into the suburbs of Adelaide and out to Alice Springs.

Heather Taylor Johnson’s writing is threaded through, with clarity and sensitivity, by observations about our human foibles and interdependencies. Also evidenced in the narrative is a degree of practical wisdom and lucidity about the expectations and assumptions operating within friendships and family relationships.

The cast of characters from Digger - the loyal family labrador missing his woman, to Charley - who drove the truck that thumped mercilessly over Jean Harley’s body on the road, to Coraleen -Jean’s emo niece parading her black weeds and lipstick at the funeral after a thirty-hour flight from the USA, is varied, entertaining and poignantly, believably flawed.

The connections between the characters are crucial to this engaging narrative of loss, despair, desire and hope. While some of the intersecting relationships may seem a little contrived to the reader at first, it is these very connections that become the stuff of this story. The contrivance of those connections is vital here and very much alive and believable on the page. This is due largely to the subtle understanding Heather Taylor Johnson demonstrates for human fallabities and how they draw us together into the great social project we call community.

‘But it was love and something more. It was a deep sadness that they shared, which came from the same place as the love, only the sadness didn’t shine inside; the sadness carried stones to give itself more weight, then laid down its burden and rested.’

Heather Taylor Johnson’s poetic leanings are strongly signalled in both the narrative arc and the text and deeply enrich this story of love and how the sadness of grief draws the world closer until that loss grows over. On the basis of reading Jean Harley Was Here, I highly recommend this poetic story teller and will be searching out her previous novel, Pursuing Love and Death.