Victory Park by Rachel Kerr – 2020

Kara and her son, Jayden, live in Victory Park – a block of flats with a bit of a playground. Money is a constant concern, and she scrapes by, by providing childcare. She and her neighbours form a sort of community, they are all a bit wary of each other, but they do support one another, arranging help for those who need it. Recently Bridget has moved into Victory Park with her son, Rafe. Compared to the other tenants, Bridget is “Flush with cash”. Jayden and Rafe have become mates, and Kara finds Bridget intriguing, and she has luxuries like a car, and they start hanging out together.

Kara is proficient in life, she manages her son, and the other children in her care, she has a good relationship with her daughter, Alisha, and her mother, Robyn. Kara is content in her tiny flat, it is where she lived with her husband, Jimmy, until he died when Jayden was one. She still has his crash helmet and a fear of any type of two-wheeled vehicle, and when she hears a rescue helicopter, she thinks of “the latest in an endless series of emergencies”.

Kara knows she is struggling financially when compared to the people like Bridget and those she works for – the people who ask her over to their house for a chat, having no idea of the financial burden that is – the bus fare balanced against a loaf of bread. She enjoys spending time with Bridget, ignoring her insensitive comments, and her whinging about having to get by on an allowance that Kara can only dream of – Bridget’s husband, Martin, is under suspicion of running a Ponzi scheme, and his assets have been frozen. Kara is a bit amazed at Bridget’s slap dash approach to parenting; Kara must teach Rafe how to tie his shoelaces.

“Kara wanting Bridget to be fun. Not hard work”. Bridget however does start to annoy Kara, casually saying Kara should go and see her doctor for her persistent cough, when there’s no way Kara could afford it. When Kara takes Bridget to the foodbank, she behaves in her usual insensitive way. Bridget criticises Kara’s ‘choice’ of work, and when she loses the little work she has, Bridget talks as though all Kara needs to do is make better decisions. Bridget lets Kara down twice when she has promised to mind Jayden, and both times he gets into danger – “When she apologised, it was like she’d stood on someone’s foot by mistake – whoops!”      

Kara is someone that wealthy people think they can say anything to, do anything with. At one-point Bridget starts applying lipstick to Kara’s lips uninvited. Two people who have fallen victim to Martin’s scheme arrive at Kara’s flat, complaining that they have lost their lives, and must now live on a benefit, wanting Kara to do something about it. Martin’s brother expects Kara to help when Bridget won’t let Martin see Rafe, but Kara’s had it by then – “I’m sorry, but I’ve done my dash of it.”

Victory Park is a brilliant depiction of the gap between those at either end of the socio-economic divide. The gap that became obvious during the Covid-19 lockdown, with those worrying about their cancelled overseas holidays, and those worried about feeding themselves and their families. And it highlights how the gap is harder to span for the wealthy. Those with little must help each other out, and word gets around who needs help. Some of those with a lot feel it their right that others help them, and word gets around who to avoid.

Both Bridget and Kara end up in hospital, but via quite different circumstances that once again highlight the selfishness of privilege, and the sacrifices the non-privileged must make. Victory Park is vividly written – of Robyn “Some days she looked rock and roll, and on others like someone you would worry about if you saw her sitting on the side of the road”. It is well plotted and there are funny moments and scary moments, like Kara and the two boys having to hitch-hike and catching a ride with a male driver. Kara is a wonderful character, resilient, caring, vulnerable, crying in the face of a gesture of hoped for but unexpected kindness. Acutely aware that “Life was obscenely enormous, and then suddenly it was nothing”.

Victory Park ends on a both optimistic and sad note. With happiness a possibility for Kara, but only on her side of the unbreachable divide. Highly recommended.

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