Extinctions by Josephine Wilson is the story of how a man became estranged from his family and how he learns to understand them (and himself) in an attempt to prevent his own personal extinction.
Fred Lothian is an expert in the field of concrete. He’s retired and living in a small gated community, wasting his days after his wife passes away.
The blurb of the book describes Fred as ‘the village idiot’, which is incredibly apt. Fred is a rather dull man with a love of designer furniture – a love so deep that he would rather covet his B3 chair than his own wife or children.
When Fred meets Jan, the bubbly woman next door with a million budgerigars, he begins to see himself in a new light.
Fred ruminates on the failings of his life as a father, husband, and friend, surrounded by the clutter of ‘stuff’ he’s hoarded over the years and triggering flashbacks to his past.
The reader is given glimpses into the complicated history of Fred’s family, featuring the more intriguing characters of the book. Martha and Caroline, Fred’s wife and daughter respectively, are wonderfully well-rounded female characters full of tenacity.
Caroline’s sub-plot of being adopted and attempting to find her place in the world is a fascinating look at the stolen generation and its long aftermath. The chapters dedicated to Caroline’s life in London and her search for her birth-family in Australia are incredibly refreshing and insightful.
The peek into the world of Fred’s son Callum’s lifelong hospital care and acquired brain injury from a car crash as a teenager is also a strong chapter of the book, although the reader is left wondering what will happen to the young man as Fred’s method of making amends with Callum is somewhat unsettling.
While Extinctions starts slowly, there are moments of lovely clarity and connection between the characters. Wilson also has a knack for beautiful turns-of-phrase. As a literary work, Extinctions is a thoughtful exploration of disability, ageing, adoption, discrimination and coming to terms with one’s self.
Extinctions was the winner of the 2015 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.
Kyra Thomsen is a writer from Wollongong, NSW. She is Deputy Editor of Writer’s Edit and her work has been published in Kindling, Seizure, Space Place & Culture, Mascara and more. You can find more at her website or on twitter at @KyraThomsen.