#SheReviews One of Us by Kylie Kaden

July 21, 2022

Sometimes the most glossy, envied and seemingly exemplary lives are merely a smooth and expertly positioned veneer that purposefully camouflages lives full of secrets, shame and the inevitable accompanying guilt. Such picture-perfect, yet inwardly tumultuous, lives are brilliantly, albeit poignantly, examined and explored in Australian author Kylie Kaden’s latest novel, the domestic thriller, “One of Us”.

Our two main protagonists, the middle-aged wives and mothers Gertie Rainworth and Rachael York, on the surface look to be living picture-perfect existences within the framework of the Great Australian Dream. Indeed, Gertie and Rachael live at the very apex of the Great Australian Dream, for Gertie, Rachael and their respective families live at the demonstrably opulent and highly-sought-after Apple Tree Creek Estate, a secluded and defiantly protected enclave of houses where Sydney’s “elite” choose to discretely live. As we are told, “Tucked behind an estuary that fed Sydney Harbour, the estate’s community boasted ex-PMs, Olympians, Instagram influencers and rock stars”. 

Gertie, a midwife, residing at 12 Lily Court, is happily (she thinks) married to businessman Ed, and mother to daughter Kat (seventeen) and sons Abe (eight) and Harry (six). Gertie is a happily contented stay-at-home mother, and perhaps a tad smug about this fact, so it definitely vehemently rattles Gertie when Ed announces he is taking off to Singapore for a year, a year in which he says Gertie should think about what she really wants.

Rachel, residing at 16 Lavender Lane, runs ‘Beehive’, a recruitment agency for people with disabilities. Rachael is, on the surface, living a plethora of Australian women’s fantasies by being married to the former golden boy of Australian swimming and Olympic gold medalist, the ever-charming and seemingly devoted Sam. Rachael, who is now forty, is at the start of this  delicately-observed novel in the latter engulfing stages of pregnancy, while already being a highly organised and devoted mother to Ethan (15) and Noah (six). 

However, the model-like Rachael is not living the stellar life that the nation believes her to be. Sam repentantly (or is he?) confesses to the long-suffering and heavily pregnant Rachael that he has just cheated on her, again. Cheating is not the only chink in Sam’s rather less than polished armour. Sam, in addition to his frequent and never-ending cycle of extra-marital affairs and dalliances, persistently erodes Rachael’s confidence by “belittling” her, making her doubt herself, and heavily monitors where she is at all times. Evidently Sam’s masquerade to the world is highly effective as he is lauded by most people outside his family, and has acquired a prestigious position at the school for the astonishingly affluent in Sydney, St Aquinas College (where many of the teenagers of Apple Tree Creek Estate attend), as a PE teacher and swimming coach. The fact that Sam “spoke like he grew up in Downton Abbey”, having lived in England until he was thirteen, only fuels the carefully constructed illusion that he is someone special.

Gertie, who actually won her house on the estate through a charity lottery, and has been living on the estate with her family for five years, and Rachael, who has mountains of money and who is a newcomer to Apple Tree Creek Estate, strike up a friendship with each other, and discover they each are the other’s staunch ally and defender.

Rachael, after she has had her baby, Indiana, who Gertie deftly delivers in the grounds of the estate, confides to Gertie of Sam, “I swear, one day he’ll drive me to commit one (a crime)”, and that she (Rachael) would think up ways she would kill Sam. We are told that “She (Gertie) did know that he tracked his wife like an offender with an ankle bracelet”.

When Sam is found stabbed and bleeding in his once picture-perfect home, and taken to hospital, suspicion chiefly lies with Rachael (apparently the spouse is always the first suspect), and Gertie, despite wanting to believe the best of her friend, is worried that Rachael has finally been pushed too far, for no visitors made their way through the estate’s fortified gates the day Sam was attacked.

Sordidly however, it soon emerges that there are many on the estate that have a clear motive to wish Sam harm. These include Kat, apparently upright neighbours Penny and Martin Crawley, and even the wise and ever-loyal Gertie and her pacifist husband, Ed.

As the sharply-observant Irish Detective O’Sullivan tells Rachael after the ‘incident’ at her house, “Everyone’s got a theory. Especially the judgemental ones….Crammed in like sardines in those fancy houses. They’re not your husband’s biggest fans, are they? Not so cosy, that estate you’ve moved in to, is it?”

Has Rachael committed the scandalous Sydney society crime of the decade, or has another one of Sam’s victims tried to end his life? Will Sam ever wake up and tell all who his attacker was? What is Sam’s dubious connection to Kat, Gertie, Ed and the Crawleys? Who is the woman known simultaneously as Rosa and Annabelle who has been stalking the Yorks for years?

Kylie has written a novel of superlative intelligence, wisdom and insight, whilst demonstrating powers of highly accurate clinical observation and understanding. The seismic twists, in this tale of affluent and sometimes entitled Australian high society, are many, and make for compulsive, captivating and at-times sobering reading. Themes of sexual abuse, coercive control and gaming are highlighted for the reader to gain a stark and confronting insight into the lives of others. I loved this novel, loved the strength and courage of Gertie, Rachael and their offspring. Even the villains in this story are eye-opening to the reader in the life choices they make. All the novel’s characters, residing in magazine-style houses, set among meticulously manicured gardens, are so well written, yet always realistic. Bravo to Kylie for delivering yet again a searingly superb novel, one that is an important read. I can’t wait to see what Kylie writes next.

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