peteg's blog

Paul Mitchell: We. Are. Family.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I've been sort-of waiting for Mitchell to follow up his collection of short stories for years now. Once again, his technique is masterful, but this time around he is a lot less transgressive and nowhere as clever; the substance of his stories tends toward a normative account of generations of domestic and other violence, some mental illness, failed marriages, a lack of takeoff, but no substantive criminality. It echoed several things I've read recently: the boys' night out at a pub in Westmore (South Australia) came a decade or two after Ireland's time at Northmead recounted in his The Glass Canoe. As always, the blokes often cannot communicate at all, and can almost never say what they mean. Here the alcohol just looses fists and loosens teeth. Was it always thus, did World War II change things or does memory reach only that far back now? Yeah, Erskineville Kings put brother v brother on the screen a long time ago, and the father too. The gestures at Gippsland reminded me that I need to finish Don Watson's The Bush. There is a lot of AFL, but not in the corporate David Williamson The Club style. The structure is something like Tim Winton's The Turning: a collection of not quite cohesive shorts, a vague sense of it not quite adding up to a novel. The capricious violence and general blokeyness evoked Trainspotting (as always) despite the lack of vernacular.

A bridge chapter in the middle (13. Joe, Penny, Molly and Lee Stevenson) put me in mind of Captain Fantastic, but substitutes a deeply-held belief in personal liberation with almost caricatured religion. Somewhat annoyingly some of the branches of the family aren't fleshed out; Stan, for instance, is pivotal but only in that one scene. Is there remorse, a family? Apparently not, going by the tree at the start. Disability gets a clear-eyed treatment, and that is perhaps Mitchell's real strength. There is no politics.

Cameron Woodhead at the Smage.