P.A. O'Reilly's The Fine Color of Rust

you’ll just have to read it to find out what the title means

“The little bush pigs have been behaving quite well. Now I realize that was the calm. Something’s coming but I don’t know what.” – P.A. O’Reilly, The Fine Color of Rust


finished The Fine Color of Rust just in time for Mother’s Day, a bittersweet fiction out of Australia about a mother trying, failing, and trying again to take care of her two children on her own. It is about missing things as much as it is about getting them right, all while doing the most important job a lot of us ever take on.

The Fine Color of Rust’s Loretta has been on her own since her husband’s ignominious departure three years ago. Without child support and left in Australia’s backcountry with modest professional hopes, Loretta leans heavily on both a community of stalwart girlfriends in similar straits and junk man Norm Stevens, a father figure for Loretta as much as for her children.

The thing about Loretta is that she’s just so tired. Managing the upkeep of her 6- and 11-year-old children, daydreaming about what form an imaginary lover might take were there to even be a single man within 100 kilometers of small-town Gunapan, Loretta misses some of the details in the lives of the little people she lives with. She can’t help it, really. Her children say odd things and she can’t quite make out their significance. When she does try to follow up her niggling suspicion that something’s wrong, the children only freeze her out. And once they’ve finally been tucked into bed, Loretta’s few spare moments to herself are spent devising ways to save her rural community’s school while making appetizing cocktails out of popsicles and whatever liquor she might have on hand.

So when it is brought to Loretta’s attention that her children are bullying others at the school, she has to find a way to do the work she’s been doing and then some, scrambling to better parent her children while life continues to churn heavily forward with all of its losses and lessons.

It is difficult for most of us to admit that we don’t get everything right. And because being a mother is such an elemental role for those of us who do it, it can become that much harder to admit a lapse in judgement, some error in managing the behavior of our own, one appalling oversight on our part or another. Do unto others, we whisper to ourselves nervously, even when our children are well out of earshot, hoping somehow they’ll hear it in their brain even if they’re too far away for their ears to receive our whispered sound.

Do unto others.

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. One day, your child might hurt mine on the playground; on another, mine might taunt yours just out of a teacher’s line of vision. This is what is true. And it is such work for any mother to accept this while continuing to wake up every morning to shepherd her tiny people through the world, chirping about “choices” all the while. It is also precisely why author P.A. O’Reilly’s dusty Loretta is such a compelling heroine. Heartbroken, angry and afraid, she tries her best to engage in the spots she’d been missing. She confronts her children and makes amends to the other mother. She is a mother making do, but somehow finding the energy to do better. I loved her because I am her and maybe you are, on some days, too.

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.

Thanks again to Bookworks, Albuquerque’s premier bookstore, for the opportunity to discover and enjoy a book I would never have stumbled upon otherwise. Want to give a gift to a child (or a grown-up) that will turn heads and start a discussion? Be subversive. Buy a book. And do it at Bookworks!