Good but not great

21 Mar

calamitiesblurb.jpgMy two book borrowings from Surry Hills Library were both entertaining in different ways, but neither gets into the 2007 best reads.

Vale Byron Bay by Wayne Grogan (2006) evokes this popular NSW north coast town in transition in the 1970s and does it well. Grogan deals with both spirituality (in a serious way) and corruption. He certainly knows how NSW has really tended to work, whatever party may be in power. In my view, however, there are times the book is over-written, pushing the poetic just a bit too hard, though there are compensatory sections where this works rather well.

The central character in The Beginning of Calamities by Tom House (2003) is an eleven-year-old gifted boy who is destined to be gay. A student at a Catholic school on Long Island, Danny Burke writes a Passion Play in which he is determined to take the lead role, a target he finally reaches but with bizarre consequences. While on the one hand this is very different from your average Gay Catholic Childhood story — there isn’t, by the way, an abusive priest in sight — it also struck me as an over-extended short story idea. On the other hand, much in the novel is truly delicious. The teacher, Miss Kaigh, and Danny’s mother are both great creations.

The book is remarkably honest about the sexual fantasies and life of eleven-year-old boys. I did not go in for an “invisible friend” quite as much as Danny does, but I’m afraid there was a lot in the book that brought back memories. Many readers will find the same, if they are honest. Of course, the novel is on the edge of many a taboo here, but perhaps that is its real value. It is also very funny.

You may read a sample chapter courtesy of Lodestar Quarterly.

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Posted by on March 21, 2007 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, gay life/issues, OzLit, Reading, Surry Hills


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