The Desert Roada novella

Lynn Davidson

Returning home for the first time in eight years, Tess hears the house nibbling and ticking around her as it used to; she takes in the familiar iron and dirt smell of the cold here in Turangi where she grew up, her Italian father a tunneller with the Tongariro Power Development.

Familiar, too, is the wariness between her parents and sisters concerning the event that has lain undiscussed between them for decades.

Kindled memory peels back time, to the days of crackling pumice roads and a makeshift kitchen at the mouth of the Tokaanu tunnel — and to the pivotal moment — before Tess left to pursue her musical career in London, before Maria lost the love of her life, before Jeanie, still a child, fled to be with Finn.

With its penetrating narrative eye and finely honed prose, Lynn Davidson’s story gathers to a shocking — then a tender — denouement.

…written with a poet’s eye for detail and image [and] attentive to the power of silence. Charles Dawson, co-founder, Association for the study of literature, environment & culture, Australia and New Zealand

Praise for The Desert Road:

Davidson’s novella is written with a poet’s eye for detail and  image; it is also attentive to the power of silence. As its title suggests, The Desert Road evokes New Zealand’s Central North Island, its lingering purplish dusks, and the ways the area, and the protagonist’s life, was altered forever through the construction of a massive hydroelectricity scheme in the 1960s and ’70s. Alive to the life of the hydro-workforce (including its temporary Italian community), the novella  revisits an area familiar to many New Zealanders. Lyrical, haunting and evocative, The Desert Road attends to a place and a time in a way that will resonate with many readers. Charles Dawson, co-founder, Association for the study of literature, environment & culture, Australia and New Zealand


We park by the house and climb out of the car to see Jeanie, on horseback, trotting up the drive to meet us. It seems orchestrated. She dismounts and we glance at each other and kind of laugh, for want of anything sensible to say. Jeanie points due northeast and says, ‘We’re in direct line of Rangipo prison. On a quiet night we can hear them making pencil cases out of matchsticks.’ Again we laugh, and weirdly enough the ice has been broken. Jeanie dismounts and starts to unsaddle the horse. She looks thinner, lean and hard. We don’t hug, but if we did I think she would feel hard. The soft lines, the way she looked like Mum, that’s gone.

It’s so exposing, this climate, and this view. I remember that cracked-open feeling when the sharp-edged mountains cut another day out of a soft, black night. My heart thumps and thumps and I think my sisters must be able to hear it. I feel Maria’s hand on my arm. I stand in the middle of Jeanie’s driveway trying not to breathe this thing that absorbs colour; the sky and rivers leeched and grey as a piece of old towel.

Inside it is dim, but dry and cosy. There’s little decoration, but comfort has been considered and attended to. And somehow, as Jeanie makes coffee and we start to talk, we seem like ourselves again. What was empty fills up: my arms, my legs, my hands, my shoulders.