The main character in ‘One Whole and Perfect Day’ is Lily, described as “the sensible one in the family”. You can tell she is one of a slightly dysfunctional family, when the first page tells you that by age seven she was getting her big brother up for school in the morning. Her big brother is Lonnie, who is endearingly vague but annoyingly uninvolved in any practical help around the house. He seems to be searching for someone to attach himself to as his dad left when Lonnie was only six. The father is now just a voice on the phone who rings his kids at birthdays. Mum is a social worker who brings home “lame ducks” from the nursing home where she works.
Then there are the grandparents – Grandma May, who has an imaginary friend, Sef, and Grandpa Stan, who has threatened Lonnie with an axe. Added to this mix is Clara Lee, the Chinese/Australian university student who Lonnie falls in love with.
What is unexpected about this book is that though Lily is the central character, all the other characters have important voices in the story. I loved the insight we get into how the grandparents feel about their lives, and how they become as real and as important as Lily. We don’t just see them from her point of view – where they are perceived as simply eccentric and incomprehensible.
When Grandma May decides that she will put on a grand party at her house in Katoomba, all these threads start to come together. Lily wishes with all her heart that this party will be a success; in fact that it will be “one whole and perfect day”. All the characters begin to plan to make their journey up the mountains, and it becomes a symbolic journey not just a physical one. They are searching for reconciliation and meaning, and, for love.
Finally the big day dawns, and Lily’s question: “Why did people have to come in families?” is answered with one whole and perfect, complex and unpredictable day in the mountains.
I loved this novel with its compassion and warmth and the growth in each of the characters. However, I felt the ending, though deliberate, was just too neat! Everybody forgives everybody else and even the long lost Dad turns up. Life isn’t like that though – we just wish it was.