Week #67 Golden Boys: a novel

Golden Boys sonya hartnett

Despite the fact that not much happens in Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys so much is going on that you could say this book carries its weight in its undercarriage. First you must look and then look again while the carriage moves you with its astute language, its great character depictions and its spellbindingly good metaphors. It is a novel to read for its words alone, and yet, and yet, there’s so much more.

Opening an eye on a family’s arrival into a neighbourhood, it is the children who will uncover the intricacies of such a landing. The adults, on the other hand, are cushioned by experience and the lack of need to bend towards others.

Hartnett shows us what that is like. The children’s hopes and fears, their rising awareness of the world they’ve been born into and the adults at the helm of that world. Golden Boys is not so much about what parents do – although there is enough said about that in the text – as what they don’t do: their lack of action, their poor decisions, their bad behaviour.

Set in a time (mid-80’s in suburban Australia) when men forgave everything in each other and, if not forgave, then downplayed, and women were their husband’s working attachés, the ubiquitous nuclear family (some may posit not much has changed) was a frightening and unrelenting knot for children. For all the ways that adults ingratiated themselves or lauded over children, with nothing properly discussed, the children in Golden Boys navigate the perils and joys with a spirit not yet tarnished and utterly unique to each of them.

This book taught me about a child’s inner life and made me so aware of something I’ve always said to parents who have come to me in my professional capacity as a Family Therapist: Children hear and see everything that you do.

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Week #68 Fusion: a novel

Fusion Kate RichardsI couldn’t stop at reading Kate Richard’s first book, Madness: a memoir, and began immediately I’d finished, to read her second book, Fusion, a novel, that I would say, despite the closeness of the characters, is about isolation.

So close, indeed impossible to be closer, conjoint twins, Sea and Serene, and their cousin, Wren, must deal with, not only physical isolation but a mewling pestering emotional isolation that first Wren and then the twins must unlock themselves from. For Wren it takes the experience of meeting someone to open the doors so he can walk past what has cautioned him against relationships. For the twins it requires an emotional separation from each other – to become two instead of one – before, as individuals, they can contemplate having a friendship with one another and others.

Repetition and poetic prose are used to make the score, by which I mean the text, bend and slip and pull the reader along. The sense of each character’s pain and sensitivity is like a spiky blanket that cloaks and irritates, rises and rests, jabs and soothes. Fusion is an aria about human need and survival. It teaches the reader about courage.

Week #67 Manhattan: a photographic series

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The first time I travelled to New York City I was struck by its contrary qualities. There’s a generosity among the harshness, a beauty, especially on Manhattan Island, despite the intensity. The attractiveness emanates from the architecture and manifests on the pavements. It resonates in the people, in their industry and their effort, and spreads through the small parks and large central garden. It travels along the grid of the city’s streets and climbs into the theatres and bars.

This duality of endeavour and largess is what the street photographer, Alan Schaller, loves to picture: the movement and vivacity of a city that holds ugliness with pride and energy with varied amounts of glue and glitter.

Homegrown and old-fashioned at times, Manhattan, simply put, has style. And it is this that Schaller’s black and white shots capture. There’s a softness to them that appears to be informed by the city itself. You can find it in other photographs Schaller has taken in other places, so, you could say, that along with a never-ending supply of subject-matter, the city has influenced Schaller’s eye by giving him the same generous position it displays. While managing to be objective, the stills have a softness that adds to their attraction. And, as the same gentleness imbues the angles of this city, subject and photo are inextricably joined.

Of course, Alan Schaller’s work goes beyond the crowded island. Cheek out more of his shots here and here.

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Week #66 A View from the Bridge: a play

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Arthur Miller‘s plays are often about men. He told stories of their power and their demise both through circumstance and a lack of insight into themselves. He depicted men’s breakdowns and broken relationships, the persecutions they enforced and their inner struggles to be good. Most importantly, Miller teased out the impact that their actions had on others.

Wonderfully rendered in a performance at the Melbourne Theatre Company, A View from the Bridge is not Miller’s most famous play, but quintessential in his canon as he mines the crises of masculinity he saw in his male characters. Set in the 1950s near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, the drama sets out the events that occur when illegal immigrants arrive from Italy to be housed secretively by a couple, Eddie and Beatrice, who have brought up Beatrice’s orphaned niece, Catherine, as their child.

As the play unfolds, Eddie’s struggle to control his attraction to Catherine, now seventeen-years-old, reveals itself. When Catherine falls for one of the Italian arrivals, jealousy flares in Eddie. His desperation not to lose her causes him to do something he would never normally do. Against all his prior beliefs and values, against every previous trait of loyalty and honour and his anti-establishment view, he alerts the authorities about the “illegals”, Beatrice’s cousins, who are living in his small apartment. It is a betrayal the gritty, hard-working Eddie would never normally commit, an act he knows will mean ostracism from his community and a fall from grace with his wife, Beatrice.

It’s this, the reaches we will go in order to fulfil our desires, especially when they are unconscious because we find the facts around them abhorrent, that, for me, A View from the Bridge is about. Blindness to oneself is a common phenomenon. But what we do when we are in that state, varies. Certainly, what we can’t tolerate in ourselves we will subvert into action, action that, depending on our level of denial, can go against our beliefs and values, and can even hurt us. Rage and high emotion do not assist to analysis what’s happening, to uncover why we are doing what we are.

Of course, in A View from the Bridge, drama is afoot, and in the tradition of the theatre of ancient Rome, and what followed in the Greek tragedies and in Shakespeare’s high dramas, it ends with ultimate demise.

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Week #65 Many Girls White Linen: a poem

Alison Whittaker has created a rhythm in Many Girls White Linen that manages to be both stark and affecting. With so few words and some of them repeated its hard to know exactly how she accomplishes this, but, after building over the first two stanzas, the third packs audacity into a tight wad that pushes on the gut.

Poetry should be physical and Whittaker has a gift for making it feel like grit in the mouth and soil on the hands. There’s something to be learned and certainly a lot to be appreciated in her textile of words, in the weave of their meaning and the anchor-drag they are loaded with. To read more go here and here and here.

Many Girls White Linen

no mist no mystery

no hanging rock only

 

many girls white linen

men with guns and

harsher things white women

amongst gums white linen

starch’er things later plaques

will mark this war

nails peeling back floor

scrubbing back blak chores

white luxe hangnails hanging

more than nails while

no palm glowing paler

 

later plaques will mark

this sick linen’s rotten

cotton genes later plaques

will track the try

to bleed lineage dry

 

its banks now flood

a new ancestor, Ordeal,

 

plaits this our blood

if evil is banal

how more boring is

suffering evil two bloodlines

from it how more

raw rousing horrifying is

the plaque that marks

something else rolling on

from this place a

roll of white linen

dropped on slight incline

amongst gums collecting grit

where blak girls hang

nails hang out picking

them hangnails

Week #64 Black and White Portraits: a photographic series

Stephen Sewell has written a superb play Arbus & West in which he imagines the hours that Mae West and Diane Arbus spent together in 1960s when Diane Arbus went to Mae West’s Ravenswood apartment to photograph her. The play slowly reveals the differences between the women, the wealth that cushioned Arbus’s world as she grew up and the hard-edged life that was Mae West’s before fame changed her circumstances. As Arbus was turning her back on her fortune and following her passion to photograph the marginalised and the shunned, the ordinary and those considered not worthy of a photographer’s lens, West was clinging not only to the fame that she’d lived and breathed for years but the fantasy of her own immortality.

This excellent dialogue between the women made me seek out the photographs that Diane Arbus took over her too-short career. I’ve put some favourites here, but there are many more, many images I didn’t realise I already knew.

Because of Arbus’s true belief in the realness of those who, as she said through Steven Sewell’s imagination, had had the worst happen to them already, she was interested in capturing their lives. Finding them more fascinating, more authentic and more worthy of recording, she was part of a new vanguard that used photography to record all that was around her rather than just the rich and glamourous.

“A photograph,” Arbus said, “is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

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arbus 2Arbus 6

arbus 5

arbus 3

 

Week #63 Lost Photographs: a photographic series

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Sylvia Grav is a photographer with a seriously sensitive eye. She’s not just interested in an image but the layers that lie below it, the smoky drafts that compile representation, that build understanding and purpose. The trust we invest as viewers can easily be dismantled.

Her pictures contain the movement of anguish and stand on pillars of old disturbance. There are shots that draw from the historical analogues of art, conjuring old pains and disturbances, loneliness and despair, a kind of searching that is emblematic of life.

Of course, there is much to be explored, much to be examined. In her Light Project Sylvia Grav shows us her playfulness and experimentation. In her Space Shots she shows us how experience nestles in the curve and bulge of the human form. And, in her Lost Photographs we see into the souls of her subjects, into their most classic startled uncertainty.

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