Midnight Water (A Memoir) by Gaylene Perry

‘They both died.’

On 2 January 1993, Gaylene Perry’s father William and brother Brad both died by drowning.  William was forty-five, Brad was twenty-five. Gaylene and her partner Jude travel from their home in Melbourne to Ironbark, where the drowning occurred.

‘Death by water.  This is not fair.  Water is her element, water is her family’s element; she sees water whenever she thinks of her family’s past .’

This memoir, told by Gaylene in the third person, is an account of the hours immediately after the drowning, when the family gathered together waiting for the bodies to be recovered.  Most of the memoir is contained within the hours between 6pm on Saturday 2 January 1993 and 4am on Sunday 3 January 1993.  William’s body was recovered, but it was three days before Brad’s body was found.

The family wait together, sharing grief and strength.  As she waits, Gaylene remembers significant moments.  Her memories enabled me to get a clearer picture of two very likeable men, two men who were a very important part of the family.

‘The search has been called off for the night.  The storm.  Too dangerous for the police divers.  They’ll find Brad tomorrow .’

This memoir is a powerful tribute to William and Brad Perry.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a reminder that there’s an individual, an important life behind each death.  It’s an example, too, of how we can keep those we love alive in our memories.  Those memories are how we share knowledge of people who mattered to us to those too young (or perhaps not even born).  By setting the memoir within such a short time period (just 10 hours), Ms Perry achieves a tight balance between the agony and shock of waiting, and memories of the past.

‘It is not water for swimming, it is water for dying .’

I am glad I read this memoir.  It’s a reminder that memory enables life after death.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2019