Lily Richards reviews The Homeland of Pure Joy, by William Dewey.
Riffing on sex, love and Martin Heidegger, The Homeland of Pure Joy is an astute and enjoyable observation of first loves, true loves and Wellington as city and mistress.
William Dewey is American-born but occasionally New Zealand-based and has placed his novel in an amusingly familiar capital, over the course of a day.
A possible sighting of his first love leads Parker Flynn to follow a woman through the city, thereby catalysing a series of events, each of which has a direct impact on his romantic future. Parker abandons himself to the luxury of looking back and the optimism required to look forward. We learn about the ex, Katie, in retrospect, through little elliptical intrusions that work near-seamlessly with the present-day plot of Parker falling for his co-star in a play about Heidegger and Hannah Arendt.
The architecture of the city is warmly rendered: the endless concrete stairs to any house and the irritating frequency of themed parties within them; the closeness of a kebab and the likelihood of seeing someone you know. Against this backdrop, Dewey pushes the story ever forward in what’s essentially a romantic thriller – the story of Parker’s past relationship being told while his current love life hangs in the balance.
In many ways evoking the panic dreams in which you never get where you’re going, The Homeland of Pure Joy flirts with the reader’s desire for understanding, closure and certainty, a point designed to mimic the uncertainties of love. With only a few sagging moments towards the end, where the reminiscences pale in interest compared with the drama of Parker’s current love, Dewey ultimately succeeds in using a day to tell the story of a life.
THE HOMELAND OF PURE JOY, by William Dewey (Lawrence and Gibson, $25).