Jacqueline Wright won the TAG Hungerford Award for most promising unpublished manuscript in 2010 and Red Dirt Talking is the result. The main protagonist, Annie, is a 40-year-old woman embarking on a new career as an anthropology graduate. She is given the opportunity to live in the small town of Ransom, meet the Indigenous locals and record their histories before making a major presentation at a UN conference. Except Annie encounters roadblocks at every turn as she tries to gather information about the locals. Soon she is drawn into the small town and becomes embroiled in the case of an eight-year-old girl who has gone missing during a bitter custody battle. Gossip and secrets permeate the town as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. At times Annie is overbearing as a character, too full of earnestness without enough light and shade. But where the author excels is in her male characters, particularly Mick, the silent Aussie bloke who becomes Annie’s love interest, and Maggot, the town garbo who finds trouble wherever he goes. This is a contemporary drama inhabited by a motley crew of characters, crackling with dialogue and shot through with a wry sense of humour.
Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the October 2012 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here. This book was longlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award.