Gregory Day reviews 'Incredible Floridas' by Stephen Orr

Despite the detailed excavatory art of the finest biographies, sometimes it takes the alchemical power of fiction to approximate the emotional geography of a single human and his or her milieu. Stephen Orr’s seventh novel, a compelling and at times distressing portrait of a twentieth-century Australian painter and his family, is one such book. Roland Griffin’s resemblance to that of Russell Drysdale is clear from early on, not only through Orr’s descriptions of the type of creator Griffin is – a painter of ‘small towns, deserted pubs ... it was all he knew’ – but also through the portrait of the artist’s troubled son (Drysdale’s only son suicided at the age of twenty-one). Drysdale’s family story obviously worked as a catalyst for Incredible Floridas but rather than chronicling that story itself, Orr employs his own creative divinations to construct a breathing and tactile fictional amalgam from its outlines and contours.

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Published in April 2018, no. 400