Blind Date

“Blind Date” is the first story in the recent short story collection from Australian author Janette Turner Hospital, Forecast: Turbulence  (Fourth Estate, 2011).

Lachlan’s father left eight years ago but is apparently coming to his daughter’s wedding. Lachlan has heard nothing about his Dad in all those years and is excited by the idea of his return. He knows his mother and sister don’t share these feelings and Lachlan is careful what he says. But as the wedding grows closer all sorts of information comes out. Is Lachlan the only one kept in the dark about his father? But he was just a little kid then and, although he is blind, his memories are infused with smells, sounds and the memory of his father’s last words.

This is a wonderful telling of a child’s perspective on an emotional family situation.  How far can memories carry a relationship of absence?  Will the strong bond Lachlan feels for his father be mirrored when they meet again? Or are his mother and sister the wise ones, remembering disappointment and expecting nothing? What pulls this father back to his children after years of neglect?

You can read this story online at The Monthly, or get the book from the library and explore more of these engrossing stories.


Girl Next Door

Girl Next DoorGirl Next Door by Alyssa Brugman

This is a book about a family on the way down. They have a ‘monster’ house, as teen narrator Jenna-Belle tells us, ‘a house with wings.’ She and her brother go to the best schools. Mum has a killer job and Dad has left work to start his dream business.

That was then. Now their father is ‘in the country’ (the kids know no more), their mum is pregnant, they have a boarder in the spare room and an increasing amount of empty space where their possessions used to be. Oh, and the house is worth less than they owe on it.

Brugman plunges the reader into the world view of a rather shallow teen narrator before the plot switches to strikingly more serious matters. The family decline, which has been happening for months before the events of the novel, continues to a tipping point. When their father reappears, nearly half way through the book, the children’s relief gives way to greater anxiety as the penny drops. There is no rescue package. At this stage their boarder, Bryce, turns out to be a better bet. He understands their predicament and offers material help to a point, but is himself a professional punter, and apparently not a hugely successful one.

Girl Next Door has a surprising impact. What is lost begins with the unnecessary trappings of a pampered lifestyle, then access to a private school education, the normal home comforts and finally a place to live. Along the way the family is disintegrating, father absent, mother detached and flagging, and a stranger the best hope they have. Jenna-Belle also grows closer to her friend and neighbour, Declan, but is as confused and hurt by his naive attention as she is by the apparent neglect of her parents. Her world view has changed rapidly:

After about twenty minutes Mum lights a cigarette and ashes out the window. The ash whips back into my face. This morning I thought the least your mother could do is feed you, now I think the very least your mother can do for you is not to flick hot ashes into your face.

In the end Brugman delivers a more hopeful ending than expected, but this story needed a soft landing.

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A Perfect Snow

by Nora Martin

This book explores what it means to belong in a number of ways – to family, to place, to significant others. It also shows how our allegiance – where we think we belong – changes our perspective on life. We also see what can become of those who feel excluded.

A novella, at just 144 pages, A Perfect Snow is the story of Ben, the older son of a family down on their luck and living in a trailer park on the outskirts of a small town in Montana. Ben, his father’s favourite, is feeling the injustice of his dad being out of work and that they are looked down upon for being “trailer trash”. He is troubled by the behaviour of younger brother, David, but ironically it is Ben who lets himself be manipulated into involvement in a racist hate group. But one night he recognises that he has gone too far. As Ben steps back from the group, forms a relationship with a new girl in town and develops a friendship with a rich kid he wanted to hate, David slips into the space Ben has vacated.

A Perfect Snow describes Ben’s developing consciousness and the effect his actions have on others. The writing is poetic and employs beautiful imagery of the natural world. There is probably too much happening in too short a time to be totally convinced by Ben’s conversion, but the symmetry of the story works somehow. The complexities of Ben’s family are only touched upon but are there strongly in the background.

Read a critical review of A Perfect Snow here.

The Tree (2010)

Australian / French production directed by Julie Bertuccelli from the book Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe.

The Tree is a family tale about loss, rebirth and the power of imagination. (from DVD)

An enormous and beautiful tree spreads widely in all directions beside an elegant country house. Both are well past their prime. These two take on roles of their own in this fine film about a family coping with the death of a parent. Dawn and her four kids each carry on in their own ways, and for some the tree takes on a special significance. So what to do when the inevitable happens and the tree, and other forces of nature, threaten?

Judy Pascoe’s book surprises after the film as it is told from the point of view of eight year old Simone, who also has a pivotal role in the film. At 166 pages it looks like a good candidate for a belonging text as well.

During the writing of Our Father Who Art in the Tree I drew heavily on the power of the Australia landscape to infuse the story with place. I guess the point I was trying to make was that even in the blandest Australian suburb the power of the landscape is inescapable. Judy Pascoe.

Another interesting place to go from The Tree is to the theme song, To Build a Home, performed by The Cinematic Orchestra, featuring Patrick Watson. (Lyrics)

Are we there yet?

By David Levithan

This is a book about brothers who are years apart in age, but possibly living on different planets when it comes to attitude.

Elijah is 16, enjoying the last years of high school and very laid back; Danny is 23, organised, and overthinking a promising career. They were good mates way back but not these days. By some trickery their parents engineer a joint holiday for the two in Italy – who could say no? Soon Elijah has fallen for Julia, a fellow traveller, and the brothers see little of each other. Then Julia meets Danny and the real challenges begin.

This book is a meditation on what it means to be brothers at home, abroad and in life’s journey. And it’s a good read.


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Words and Images of Edvard Munch

by Bente Torjusen

A long time ago I had also intended to make a big portfolio of the most important prints in The Frieze of Life and to add my words to them – mainly poems in prose – Edvard Munch, 1929

Torjusen has brought Munch’s idea to fruition with this selection of Munch’s art. She has placed each with appropriate words of the artist from diaries, letters and other writings. The result is this beautiful anthology, with many entries reflecting Munch’s recurring theme of isolation. A lengthy introduction provides excellent context for the novice.

For instance, the woodcut Encounter in Space, 1899, is accompanied by these words:

( This book is sadly out of print, but that is where libraries are handy, or try secondhand from Biblioz or Amazon.)

Wake in Fright

by Kenneth Cook

First published in 1961, Wake in Fright is the story of what happens to a young man from Sydney stranded in an outback town after his first year teaching in an even more remote one room school. John Grant has his pay cheque in his pocket when he takes the six hour train ride to Bundanyabba, where he expects to spend one night before flying to Sydney.

Six weeks by the sea, to just lie in the water and soak out the dust that had seeped into his being.

But that was not to be. He imagines time spent with a girl called Robyn and stretching his pay packet over the six weeks by visiting relatives, before returning to that one room school for a second year to finish his contract and be free.

Another year in this apology for a town, himself an outcast in a community of people who were at home in the bleak and frightening land that spread out around him now, hot, dry and careless of itself and the people who professed to own it.

Text Publishing’s 2003 edition of the book is introduced by Peter Temple, accomplished crime writer and winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Award for his book Truth. Temple calls Wake in Fright “A novel of menace” and he’s not wrong. John Grant suffers heat, isolation, alcohol, loss, violence and a kind of mateship he fails to comprehend. He stays with some unfathomable locals and goes on a mammoth, drunken kangaroo shoot where he sees and does what he never thought possible.

Obviously an outcast in this environment, Grant remains removed from his own home. There is never any suggestion of phone calls, telegrams or even letters. It seems to be the sea he is going to – the imagery consumes his dreams at times – and the idea of his girl, Robyn. Not a strong idea at all, except again in his dreams.

The imagery and symbolism of landscape permeate the book. As well as the flat, hot land and the sea there is the sky and stars:

It was almost quite dark and the stars were breaking through the purple of the sky, building up into an immense curved blanket that lay over him, quite intimately.

This is a powerful novel – almost a novella at only about 200 pages. The 1971 film is also considered a masterpiece and has been remastered in recent years.