Reviewed by Annabel
Before they’d let me out of rehab someone had to agree to act as my legal custodian. There it is, the snappy truth about why, at the age of thirty-two, I live with my mother. She now has control over every aspect of my life, from my finances to my laundry. One little cocaine-induced heart attack and it’s back to my childhood to start over.
Olivia has returned to Caprock, a small town in the Texas panhandle after a career in fashion journalism in Dallas. She’s not happy to be back.
Jane, her therapist, formerly a school friend ironically, tells her to find a hobby, but quilting like Beth-Ann opposite is not for her, nor anything else they suggest. Meanwhile, she works for old family friend Zachary, who owns a jewellery shop – his hobby is to ‘design wedding rings for rich people’ – and he’s in demand, jetting off to see celebs. Olivia wonders what keeps him based in Caprock but is very happy to have him there. He’s gay, spends most of his time in her mother’s house and is a wonderful surrogate father figure for Olivia and her younger sister Chloe, (I loved Zachary – a brilliant character).
Olivia does need something to take her mind off her addiction and recovery though – something that’s cheap to do, as her salary is controlled by her mother. Searching the internet one evening she finds it:
Urban exploration. Urbexing. Finding ways into abandoned buildings and sneaking around. In essence, trespassing. It sounds bizarre and dirty. Rats and spiders would be involved. I’m fascinated.
It’s not the sort of hobby you want to tell people about though – but there is one abandoned house that she has been longing to get into since she was little. Suffice it to say, Olivia figures out a way in – and once there she finds the Meskar Mansion was abandoned with much of its contents left behind. She can’t resist and takes a few choice items to auction online – and soon she has some cash of her own squirreled away. She’s found a new addiction, and is soon planning her next outing.
Meanwhile, there are more problems when Chloe returns home too – pregnant. The girls’ mother is hard-pushed to cope with two needy but strong-minded young women. Both Chloe and Olivia’s lives will grow ever more complicated as the novel progresses before the ends are tied up in a nice ending.
However, as narrated by the wise-cracking Olivia, this novel is an absolute blast. There are serious moments of course, but Jen Waldo looks for the comedy in everything to create a memorable scenario that reminded me very much of the style of Six Feet Under.
Caprock is one of those small towns where everyone knows each other and for Olivia it’s a bit like John Cusack returning for his high-school reunion in Grosse Point Blank when he jokes with the truth when asked what he’s doing now? ‘I’m a hit man,’ he deadpans. Olivia finds that most of her old acquaintances haven’t moved on, they didn’t move to the city – I do love these novels full of small town dynamics (I recommend The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury reviewed here). Olivia’s directness and understated comedy, together with the author’s unwordy style make for a delightful and chortlesome read.
Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.
Read a Q&A with Jen Waldo about this book in our BookBuzz section here.
Jen Waldo, Old Buildings in North Texas (Arcadia, 2016). 978-1910050781, 215 pp., hardback.
BUY Old Buildings in North Texas from the Book Depository.