Armadillos by P.K. Lynch

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Reviewed by Annabel

Debut novelist P.K. Lynch trained as an actor before having a family and turning to writing plays. Her first professional acting job was playing Lizzy in Trainspotting, (in which she had a memorable scene when she finds out Tommy may have returned their sex tape to the rental shop!) Trainspotting was an uncompromising novel, and Lynch’s debut certainly shares that quality from the very first page…

She said you basically got human people and you got sub people. And we were part of that category. We’re the subs.

We were sitting in the bedroom and I asked her why it was we were sub. She said it was time I knew and went downstairs. When she came back, she brought company. Seemed I was a woman now, she said, and we kept it in the family. Had done for years. She said. […]

Pop went first. He didn’t take long. Four Sinner’s Prayers, usually. But Cy took longer. Pop would laugh and it made Cy go rougher and I’d lose count of the prayers in my head.

Ash never did it. They’d tried to make him once but he couldn’t. After that, they just made him watch. […]

That was my people. Pop, Cy, Ash, Jojo.

The Jones family.

They called me Aggie. (p9, 11)

Aggie’s Momma had run off years ago, leaving her behind with Pop on their remote Texas farm with her older sister and brothers. Ash is also gone, he couldn’t stand it, and they couldn’t keep him there. Jojo runs the house and seems happy to stay, especially now Aggie is taking the pressure off her, but Aggie is different – more like her mother hiding in her books. She begins yearn for escape, and one day when she’s alone on the farm for a rare change – she runs.

She has no money, no clothes, nothing but her wits. She doesn’t want to end up like the roadkill she passes, “a luckless armadillo lying on its back, two front claws pointing skyward in pointless defence.”

So she hitches a lift from a truck driver, who takes pity on her, feeds her, but knowing she’s a minor, threatens to hand her over to the cops. Aggie blackmails him, saying she’ll say he took advantage of her if he does.

‘Little girl, I wish I’d never have met you.’ His eyes locked onto mine and I glanced away. He flipped open the wallet. ‘But I do wish you luck with whatever it is you’re trying to get away from,’ he said, as he pulled out a pile of bills and slid them across the table. (p32)

Aggie is on her way. She plays the same trick a few times, going from town to town before getting a lift with some college kids who tell her about a job at their local pizza parlour. It doesn’t take long before she has to leave though and she jumps a train to the city where she lives rough, until she meets Freak, another lost teenager.

Freak takes her to her friend Ade’s squat and there she begins another life. Freak is a challenge to share rooms with, and is vying with Marj for Ade’s attention. Aggie gets stuck in the middle and when Freak gets involved in a deal gone bad, owing money to club owner Mr Dee, Aggie steps in not realising how dangerous this might be. Mr Dee is a whole league apart from the truck-drivers she conned. Will she be able to survive in the city?

Aggie is a born survivor, one of a new breed of tough young literary heroines. Like the unnamed narrator of Katherine Faw Morris’s superb novel Young God, another abused teenager who takes charge of her life, she learns early to play those seeking to take advantage at their own game. She has great resilience, but really she’s looking to join the human race, to stop being a sub and find a place to belong.

In between Aggie’s travels and exploits, Lynch inserts sections detailing Aggie’s childhood, gradually building up a picture of the systematic abuse that her father inflicted on her and Jojo, teasing out the family secrets one by one, saving the final skeletons in the cupboard for the novel’s climax. Aggie also has some terrible dreams about her family which reinforce the damage done.

Debut novelists often write about subjects or locales that they have personal experience of, and in an afterword, Lynch tells how she was advised to relocate her novel to the Highlands, but she had a clear vision of wanting to tell the story of a young American girl. Aggie’s voice came relatively easily, but her world required more work and luckily she was able to fund a research trip to Texas through winning a writing prize at university.

That has paid off, for Aggie’s world never seems less than horribly real. Aggie is simultaneously wise beyond her years but also naïve in her inexperience of normal life, you can’t help but root for her. Armadillos is an accomplished debut about coming of age and overcoming the odds from a new author to watch out for.

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Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.

P.K. Lynch, Armadillos (Legend Press, 2016) ISBN 9781785079597, paperback original, 288 pages.

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