Issue 26’s Review
Review by Shelley Carter (this review can also be read in the Underground zine, issue 26: Ashes)
The Wounded Sinner is a slow-burning, gritty glimpse at the lives of a group of Western Australians brought together by random circumstance on a hot summer’s day in the bush. It’s an intense character study, taking place in both Leonora and Perth, and the long stretch of highway in between.
It follows Matthew and Vince, who become fast friends when Matthew’s car breaks down on the way to Perth to visit his elderly father, Archie. Meanwhile, Matthew’s partner, Jeanie, is struggling with taking care of five kids by herself back in Leonora while Matthew is away. Her adolescent daughter, Jaylene, is going through her own personal turmoil which we also learn about over the course of the few days in which The Wounded Sinner is set.
Gus Henderson’s writing is beautifully descriptive, painting a vivid picture of the Western Australian landscape and lifestyle that immerses the reader in the world of the characters. There are absolute gems of prose, from subtle references such as the “Karakatta shuffle” (visiting Karakatta cemetery), to the punchy, one-sentence descriptors of Matthew’s past: “The empties were now rolling about the floor with the motion of the ute, clinking together in a tuneless brown-bottle symphony, playing the Andrew’s family song.”
There were a few elements of the story that I wish Henderson had expanded upon, particularly the story arc between Ben Paulson and Lisbeth Curtis-Browne. There was an extensive backstory that we never really got to explore, and I found myself wanting to know more. This plot point ended as quickly as it began and I felt there was no closure for the characters, or the reader.
While the descriptions of the landscape and some characters was outstanding, I did find a few issues with how women were described in the book. There were a lot of references to physical appearance, particularly breasts, that I found both vague and repetitive. One character was described based on her “buxomness”, another as “all hips and breasts” and another as having a “pendulous” bosom. I can understand using these descriptions in the context of certain views of particular characters (one being especially sexist and having a hatred of women), however I wish there was more exploration into other aspects of these characters’ appearances and personalities.
That being said, the character development in The Wounded Sinner was excellent, and I could see them grow and change in a way that was deeply human and often relatable. The way in which Henderson writes about family, race, aging, and sexuality is both realistic and compelling to read. I feel as though there is something for every reader to learn and experience in this book, and if you are from Western Australia or have a familiarity with the location, you will get even more out of this story.