Review of ‘Plane Tree Drive’, by Lynette Washington

The plane tree is a colonial import to Australia, often found lining city and inner-suburban streets in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. Shaded avenues often lined on both sides, forming a ceiling of brilliant fluorescent green in spring and summer that becomes somewhat stark and barren in winter. Most controversially, perhaps, aside from being a non-native tree, they can also be an allergy and respiratory menace in spring, when the trees shed their spiny hairs and seeds, especially on windy days. It is, of course, all a matter of perspective and subjectivity, but also of timing and repetition—as marked by the passing of the seasons.

In Lynette Washington’s Plane Tree Drive, somewhere between a short story collection and a novel-in-stories, we see a number of perspectives on the plane trees throughout the book. On the opening page, Maurice reflects that his soon-to-be ex-wife Jacqui “used to look up at the branches, reaching over the road towards each other, and mutter under her breath, ‘monstrous’ or, ‘it’ll be the death of me’. She said the trees made her feel like she was in prison. She was convinced the street was shadowy, secretive. Something about the gnarled fingers of the branches especially made her skin crawl.” Later, Jennifer, who paints as an escape from her life as a wife and mother, and who dreams of her unrequited first love, Alexander, sees “trees with crooked fingers leaning over each other, grasping and locking themselves together.” For Coralie, driving down Plane Tree Drive with her vents closed, the pollen is “like yellow puffs of fairy floss”.

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