Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany is a brutal and intense novel about the abuse of a teenage girl.
The unnamed narrator focuses on her family – her mother, her brother and her mother’s new partner, referred to as ‘father man’. The man runs an unlicensed mechanic’s workshop in the backyard. The girl shows her resistance with the only weapons she has at her disposal – silence and sabotage. She slips out at night to remove bolts, sever pipes and loosen screws in the engines the man is working on.
A family road trip interrupts the grim trajectory of the story but the respite for the girl is brief, and on their return, the abuse resumes.
My door, I know, will be opened. Because of the trip there’s a gap and time must be made up for. Because of the trip father man experienced losses and now it’s time to pay. It’s urgent like I’ve seen a dog is, or a horse or a bull.
The car engine is used to represent different elements of the girl’s story. The title of novel is borrowed from the types of photographs in the car repair manual that the girl pores over –
An exploded view is to show the spaces between the parts and how they fit together.
But it is in exploring how the girl fits in to her violent world that reveals the power in Tiffany’s parred back prose. Comparisons are made between engines and the human body, giving the girl’s trauma a tangibility that was difficult to read (the feeling of foreboding, the feeling of fear that grips at the throat? That).
In any machine the smallest part is often where the break occurs.
It’s a choice to hurt yourself before someone else gets the chance.
It culminates in the girl’s heartbreaking understanding of her own trauma –
Father man has taken my chance to tell all of the parts of my story. There will always be this part that can never be told.
I have always admired Tiffany’s writing – she’s economic but emotionally intense. In Exploded View, the girl’s narration is detached, disassociated for the most part, and yet occasionally we catch a glimpse of her naivety, and in an instant, Tiffany pulls the reader in very, very close –
I am brown-haired. There’s only so much yellow hair to go around and people miss out. If you are yellow you have a yellow name like Jodie or Denise and you have to wear shorts. If everyone was yellow it wouldn’t be so special and men would take another colour and make it the best for themselves.
There are many happy times in my family. The happiest time is when my mother loses a contact lens. She calls us to her and we drop to our knees and pat the floor at her feet.
I was reminded of Tiffany saying that when writing a novel, she focuses on the individual sentences – she writes them separately, and then finds their order. You can see that in this book – fragments build the broad picture: the girl’s midnight drives and visits to the tip; her mother’s neglect and preoccupation with Mills & Boon romances; father man’s violent outbursts at the dinner table – and as these small, tense scenes unfold, the story gathers momentum. Although it is an undeniably horrifying story, there’s beauty in Tiffany’s words –
I wind my window down, let the warm insect air hit my face. The view behind us is long now, so long it loops back on itself like the toffee they stretch in the caravans at the royal show.
Some of the bowls ladies have blue hair, some have lilac hair, but most have white hair. It must be nice to stand on the green carpet grass but I wouldn’t want to wear pantyhose or put my hands around the cold black ball. Some of the ladies might be sisters. Even when they are old, sisters can be next to each other. It doesn’t seem like a sad life.
This book is devastating because while fictional, we know its truth for many girls.
4.5/5 Tense, tragic and poetic.
Christmas is just around the corner now. What is fancy on Christmas Day is when you take a watermelon and cut it in half and scrape out all of the flesh with a spoon to make it into a bowl. Then you fill it up with other fruit – grapes, bits of orange and apples, some plums and tinned peaches. There is ice cream or cream with that.