New Zealand writer Sue McCauley's Other Halves is a brave, largely autobiographical novel, charting the difficult development of a romantic relationship between Thomas Morton, known as Tug, a sixteen-year-old Maori boy and a married, Pakeha (European New Zealander) woman in her thirties, Liz Harvey.
It's a pair who, in normal circumstances, would never have met.
Tug is a little thug - a streetsmart, amoral petty thief. He has no time for a society he feels has short-changed him, and feels no compulsion to abide by its rules. He has been committed to a psychiatric hospital by a liberal judge after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
Liz, on the other hand, is middle-class, protected, a stalwart of the society Tug despises - she's one of those women who people PTA events and join committees. She's never told a deliberate lie, or used a swear-word, let alone committed a crime. She's also in the hospital, but she's a voluntary patient, and has suffered a breakdown.
Both alone and out of their element in the hospital, they strike up a hesitant, curious frienship.
When they leave, they return to their disparate lives, Tug to the streets and his vicious mates, Liz to her home, where her husband, Ken, gladly agrees to the separation she seeks; he has no patience with what he sees as her self-indulgence in giving in to her demons, and sees her breakdown as merely inconvenient and troublesome - she has become unreliable, and therefore more trouble than she's worth. When he leaves, their son goes with him.
For a while, Liz glories in her new independence and freedom, but loneliness soon grips her. She finds Tug, and he moves in with her. The couple soon become lovers. They have to struggle through a massive clash of cultural mores and generational moralities, however - she, frequently hurt by his infidelities, he grappling with the concept of love meaning ownership.
The unfolding of the story presents us with two very different perspectives of life in New Zealand , both bleak and uncompromising, though in vastly different ways, the unforgiving, rigidly structured gentility of Liz's middle-class existance where weakness isn't tolerated, contrasted with the stark realities of Tug's poverty bounded one, where feral behaviour is essential to survival. It is often hard to tell which is the colder.
McCauley gives us a story of raw power, where we're never sure whether the people - let alone the relationship - can survive the pressure. It's a first novel, and it shows - the writing isn't always accomplished, the language is sometimes clumsy- but it grips and involves the reader, enaging heart and gut, so that despite its imperfections it's a worthwhile and satisfying read.
The book won both the Wattie Book of the Year Award and the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction when it was published in 1982.