By Rhett DavisUnpublished Manuscript

Hovering

Judges' comments

When thirty-nine-year old artist Alice returns home from Europe to regional Victoria, she finds the family home and her sister Lydia largely unchanged, but little else so. Lydia’s son, George, a gifted computer programmer, is hearing voices and has taken a vow of silence. Strange things are happening: people are waking up to streets that have rearranged themselves; to houses that have moved to completely different parts of town. There are pileups, fights in the street, as authorities struggle to offer explanations. The internet is alight with conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, the thing Alice is running from catches up with her when a man is arrested over a case of international art fraud, and Alice is implicated in the scandal. As things unravel for Lydia, Alice and George, the town becomes even more unstable.

Hovering is an ambitious, kaleidoscopic novel that playfully but poignantly explores ideas around permanence, ownership, belonging, artistic integrity, and the sentience of nature. Ingeniously employing a dazzling variety of voices and postmodern narrative devices, or ‘interruptions’ – internet code, text messages, police reports, comments sections, diagrams – Hovering ultimately tells a gripping story about three people who are struggling to find meaning in their lives.

Portrait of Rhett Davis

Rhett Davis

Rhett Davis lives in Geelong, where he is currently completing his creative writing PhD at Deakin University. He has published fiction in a variety of Australian and North American journals.

Extract

The city was in the same place. The same land lay beneath, the same river curled through and emptied into the same sea. Observed from six thousand metres above—over the waveless bay and flat stony plains; over crescent-dulled suburbs landlocked by monstrous highways and shopping centres; over ships and shoreline factories and towers of concrete and glass—the city remained roughly where Alice had left it. But now it extended into the foothills they called mountains twenty kilometres from the city centre. It had engulfed the coastline and hinterlands. It had swallowed the seaside villages and forests and fields once at its fringe. It was in the same place, but even from this height it was a different city. As she stared at one of the long arterials that led through the suburbs, she could swear it moved. It’d been a long flight.

The pilot announced the landing. The young flight attendant buckled himself in and flashed another brilliant smile. He’d been kind to her all flight, giving her free drinks and food and winking. Over Singapore she’d realised he’d been treating her the way he might treat his mother. He said, ‘Coming home?’

She said, ‘Fraser is only the place I lived for my first twenty-four years.’

He laughed. ‘I know how you feel.’

‘Unlikely,’ she said.

‘Well, you know,’ he replied, shrugging and looking intently over her shoulder as if something important was there.

‘They say it’s changed,’ the old woman beside her said. Alice had avoided conversation with her by wearing headphones the entire flight, but her ears were sore.

‘Everywhere changes,’ she replied.

‘Not like this,’ the old woman said. ‘My nephew said – ’

Alice replaced her headphones and mouthed the words ‘sorry, can’t hear you’. The woman kept talking. Alice listened to birdsongs and watched their descent through their shared window. The city grew closer, until she could see the gleam on the skyscrapers and the cranes at their peaks, until she could see the processions of cars and the asphalt conveying them, until she could see the caged trampolines in the backyards, until she could see the grain on the tarmac and the wisps of ratty Australian grasses running alongside it, until she could see that endless dusty rocky plain. The land was a mix of browns and dark greens. It was almost colourless. They landed, and she was grateful, at least, to be on the earth again.

 

The taxi was blue, not yellow. She asked the driver why they had changed.

‘They’ve always been this way,’ the driver replied.

‘They weren’t fifteen years ago.’

‘Are you sure?’ The woman steered on to the on-ramp.

‘Are you suggesting I’m not?’

‘I came here from Brisbane thirteen years ago and they were blue.’

They were going in the wrong direction. Alice peered at the driver’s GPS over the seat. She didn’t recognise the highway they were on. ‘This isn’t the way to the city,’ Alice said.

‘Yes, it is,’ the woman replied.

‘It’s not.’

‘Are you suggesting I don’t know the way?’

‘The highway must be new.’

The woman sighed. ‘The highway to the city used to go west. Now it goes north, then west. The highway is new. The cars, not so new.’

‘It just feels like the wrong way.’

‘It rights itself after you hit Eiderton.’

‘Where’s Eiderton?’ Alice said.

‘Maybe that’s new too.’

‘I heard about the city transforming. I just didn’t think it’d be this – obvious. I thought there’d be a building or two where it shouldn’t be, but entire highways?’

‘Entire highways,’ the woman said wearily.

Alice put her elbow on the window and rested her chin in her hand. A billboard advertising a hair removal product followed a billboard displaying a hair retention product. Then an ad for a new phone. A single faceless hairless poreless bloodless thigh advertised a men’s club. Then a football team – the Queen’s Park Boaters – glared angrily and demanded membership fees. She’d never heard of them, but she hadn’t followed football for decades. The sky was as grey as it had been on the day she left. She looked for things to celebrate. The road surface was immaculate, there were plenty of lanes, and the signs gave drivers lots of notice when they needed to exit. Beyond that, it was hard to say. The highway was walled off from the surrounding suburbs and landmarks. They may as well have been travelling in a tunnel. It was impossible to know where she was and what might have been good about it.

The city skyline came close enough to disappear. She scrolled through her emails. A few from the bank, one from Claude wondering where she was, and promotions for photographic equipment, industrial supplies, and a bird-watching group in Sussex. The email that had prompted her hasty departure from Berlin was still there. It was from Curt and said, ‘Have been arrested. Dissolve the group.’ She deleted them all. The car slowed. She looked up. She was home.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist