The Family String By Denise Picton – A Review

Publisher: Ultimo Press

Publication Date: 10th November 2022

This is my first book from Ultimo Press who publish Australian fiction. It certainly won’t be my last!

Set in 1960’s Adelaide we focus on one Christaldelphian family through the eyes of 12 year old Dorcas. Dorcas is the second eldest child but the oldest living at home. Her older brother David has been sent away to do the lords work after an incident the family don’t talk about.

Dorcas, together with her two younger siblings Ruthy and Caleb like to chart their mother’s moods daily. Quite often they have a long run of ‘cross’ with the occasional run of ‘head’ to denote their mother taking to bed with one of her headaches. Occasionally she’ll have a ‘Jesus’ day where she gently hums hymns to herself as she goes about her day. Caleb also likes to chart the positions of the family ‘favourites’ in relation to their mother. This is done with coloured beads on a string, hence ‘the family string’. Unfortunately Dorcas’s bead is last on the string, furthest away from her mothers bead. This doesn’t change. Dorcas and everyone else in the family know that she is the least favourite child.

Their religion means the family can’t be ‘worldly’. They must concentrate their efforts on education and religion and nothing much else beyond that. However Caleb is desperate to play football and Ruthy is a budding writer and Dorcas has dreams of becoming a vet.

Dorcas tries her best to be the daughter she thinks her mother wants but it doesn’t quite work out that way. The family experience a tragedy which threatens to tear them apart for good but can Dorcas make her way back into the family unit…

If you’ve followed me for a while you’ll know I sometimes struggle with child narrators and quite often say that a child character has to have a bit of something special about them to keep my attention. Well let me tell you that Dorcas is something special. She is tenacious and determined but things don’t always quite work out the way she wants them to. I found myself constantly rooting for her! There are dark events that happen to Dorcas and around Dorcas and she observes these things through such naive eyes that I wanted to just give her a huge hug! She’s funny and sharp and a little bit wilful and ‘naughty’ which I loved. She has heart and spirit and is such a memorable indomitable character. I loved her!

I was also fascinated by the character of Dorcas’ mother. We are viewing her life a step removed through the naive and immature eyes of a child but as adult readers we are all too aware that this woman is clearly suffering from depression and has her own demons to battle. Dorcas and her siblings know that something isn’t right with their mother but they’re far too young to figure out what. I found this heartbreaking and as much as their mother isn’t always likeable I felt I could understand her actions somewhat.

Denise Picton’s writing is relatable and humorous but she also weaves in these threads of emotion that wind themselves around your heart and take root. This is a story of family ties, depression, love, faith and determination.

Dorcas is an unforgettable character who will stay with me for a long time to come.

A brilliant debut!

Thank you Laura Creyke and Ultimo Press for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x