The Healing Party (Micheline Lee, Black Inc.)
This debut family drama centres on Natasha Chan, who, having sought exile in Darwin away from her devout Christian family, returns home to nurse her ailing mother, who is dying from cancer. Her family speaks in tongues, prays frequently and views almost everything through the lens of their religion: ‘They’re only interested in souls,’ Natasha quips. Her overbearing, melodramatic father, convinced of an imminent miracle, believes that Natasha’s mother will be cured of cancer, and organises a ‘healing party’ so that everyone can witness her mother walk again. As the party nears, the narrative picks up pace, creating tension around the outcome. At the novel’s core are Natasha’s relationships with her father, mother and three sisters, which are all conflicted by her lack of faith. Micheline Lee excels at drawing the ambiguities and frictions of familial connections: conflict, dislike and difference balanced by enduring love, which, in this family, is felt, but never expressed. What if someone you love does something terrible? What is forgiveness? Can you escape your upbringing? Amid secrets, lies, fear, death, authenticity and love, Lee creates a memorable, almost tragi-comic portrait of an Asian-Australian family. This novel’s fresh insights, readability and astute handling should give it broad appeal to readers of contemporary fiction.
Joanne Shiells is a former editor of Books+Publishing