William Morrow / 263 pages / February 1999
UFO sightings are nothing new in America (especially in some, shall we say, rural areas), but not so in New Zealand. They are downright uncommon in a small town like Opunake, and the spacemen rarely have intimate relations with the local girls. Certainly, they never leave behind the seedlings of future offspring. Something like that could tear the village apart.
Too bad no one had a chance to bring up all these salient points with the mysterious visitors. It’s just possible that discussion could have headed off a lot of trouble. Too late now, of course.
Late is the operative word here as first one young woman, then two more, announce that they are not only pregnant, but pregnant with alien fetusses. A night of blurry, but apparently fruitful sex with a group of spacemen is the cause, and Delia, the first woman to report the incident has no intention of giving up her baby or the fantastic tale. Now, in someplace like New York City this kind of revelation would hardly be noticed, much less be a… well… revelation. In a locale like Opunake, the scandal is destined to become the only topic of conversation. Destiny also dictates that Delia, Lucinda, and Yvonne are about to became the scarlet women of the town. What else has everyone got to talk about? The reopening of the abandoned library? The appearance of a tabloid reporter in Opunake? The new tourist attraction that the Mayor is planning? Or maybe the problems at the freezing plant? They may feign shock and scorn, but it is more like delight at a chance for something to talk about.
Phillip Sullivan — ex-military man, mayor’s nephew, and new town librarian — gets to Opunake just in time to become embroiled in the spectacle. He also arrives at the perfect moment to fall hard for the pregnant Delia. Fancying himself a thinking man, he is determined to find the answer to the mystery. And that isn’t helping matters.
McCarten has re-created the small town experience with farcical and incriminating accuracy. His characters develop an almost visual realism, being petty, gossipy, and jealous in most cases. Glints of honesty, kindness, and practicality manage to show through the heavy atmosphere of disapproval and self-righteousness. For all their buffoonery, the townspeople are only people, after all. What do you expect?
Here is a point that distinguishes McCarten from some of his contemporaries; he never forgets that you get out of people only what goes into them, and explains the minor character flaws as human. Not an excuse, maybe, but a reason for their behaviour. Think of him as Tom Sharpe with empathy.
Spinners is a book to just kick back and savour. Perhaps put Tim Finn on the stereo for background music. Eat a kiwi. Laugh and shake your head at these imperfect creatures caught in a situation far outside the scope of their experience. And enjoy a new voice in the novel chorus.