A writer I feel inordinately close to, each story at once like being home and being tossed to the wolves. Linguistic obsession, dark humour, jigsaw pieces that never come together, all reminiscent of choreography as much as tale-weaving. Details are microscopic, vitally observed, then quickly, telescopically reversed, blurred, pulled back into a not-quite-whole. The rain smells like old silver jewellery. A rat-king moves in an attic. A woman sings “Star-Spangled Banner” for a dead friend. All the usual subjects, weddings, divorce, heterosexual monogamy, but split up, different, interspersed with mothers and daughters, friends, neighbours, and, of course, the small citizen’s relationship to state warfare – here, the Iraq War. The signature puns abound, the bark of the title – both the stuff she strips off trees and the cries of dogs – running through the stories like the uncanny. As always, painful, funny, intelligent, and unbearably intimate.
Concerned first and foremost with intersectionality, a brief, stark, incisive tract that is another introduction to feminism. Better than most post-second wave works, a call to embrace mass global feminist movement, spotlighting hooks’ characteristic linguistic construction: “feminist movement” and NOT “feminism.” The distinction is patent, a focus on praxis not theory, despite its title. Often it suffers from this, treading an unstable line between palatability and radicalism, most potent in the eagerness to embrace men and heterosexuality. Attacks on white liberal feminism are long overdue, perfect, necessary even more today. Without race and class feminism is useless. Again, outdated cherishing of a destructive gender binary undermines the heat and power of the call for radical eradication of white patriarchal domination and oppression. Most trenchant are chapters on violence and sisterhood. Easy to carry, underline, page through, slip into the hands of those acquaintances who skirt the edges of feminism but don’t yet feel its radical core.
Free will, destiny, a cosmology without answers. Senior citizens play chess and wear panama hats, deaths are preordained and wanted, carried out by bald doctors. An old man mourns his wife, cannot sleep, falls into a universe of auras and violence. The opportunity is missed to render the true horror of insomnia, cheapened and never threatening, a mere discomfort, never consuming, torturous, painful, insane. A strange plotline about reproductive rights, King’s misogyny never far from the surface, until a shrill, selfish, aggressive feminist meets the fate that is the second-best fantasy of every misogynist: decapitation. Peopled by the silly, beautiful-or-ugly women of so much men’s fiction, shaped by the paternalism of old Ralph Roberts, who sympathises with the abuser but saves a women’s shelter from the lone wolf on a shooting spree. Long, as always, too long, crowded with explication, repetition, one too many interjections from the dead wife. But 90s commercial fiction at its best: read at an airport, addled with jetlag, in a time-warp, expecting nothing.
The opening of a trilogy, once-popular, antiquated: a 1941 take on white invasion/settlement (balanced awkwardly between ideology), 1788 to 1792, but always more 1941 than 1788. A canvas that struggles to contain the people it depicts, black and white, Wangal, Wullumedegal, Burra-matta-gal, Cammeraygal, officers, convicts, rich, poor, women, men, and the country it holds: the waves of Port Jackson, headlands, Parramatta, the Blue Mountains. Historical figures loom large: Arthur Phillip, Bennelong, Barangaroo. A “silent,” “frightening” place where the “natives” do not understand change, live blurred with the land itself, childlike, static. The self-congratulation of white transcription of Aboriginal experience. An attempt at understanding the conflict, the varied perspectives that merged and struck on Koori land, but, ultimately, a colonial act itself, a muffling of language, the words of the coloniser returning decades later.
The 1612 Pendle Hill witch trials, as real today, wilder than Salem, rich on paper. The August Assizes, Lancaster Castle, Daemonology, 1605 Gunpowder Plot, Hogton Hall, the Rough Lee, the North and its darkness, severed heads, poverty, women’s power crushed again and again, and still frightening. The foolishness of patriarchy, the banality of violence against women, children, the poor: all of this moves in a swampy sump, shifting point of view and allegiances. Spitting in the wind, galloping on horses, a woman with fire for hair, the inventor of magenta dye. She writes, rescues, and queers your dull grey Protestantism. Not only the gothic, but patriarchal and feudal oppression, fearfully resonant.
How did sexuality acquire its relation to truth? (In construction alone). How a decipherment of the self by the self, how a hermeneutics of desire? How in the 21st century did sexuality come to signal a revelation of the soul as a realm of knowledge about the True Self, where the smallest pieces of desire must be examined and analysed? Ancient Greece, on the other hand, turns to sexual practices themselves, not as moral/immoral, but as moderation, self-mastery, the superiority of the free man and his need to exercise his birthright as active, as ruler. Boys are the most beautiful, women are in a political relationship of ruler/ruled. All a juridico-moral codification of acts, arts of existence, regimen – for “free” men only.
That default 1950s rural town, a place of kookaburras and few neighbours and a brief isolation. Spaces and boundaries and tracks across properties: a clunky crossover of human and bird life. The unexamined strangeness of heterosexuality is half-examined as the neighbours cross paths, murkily examined and deliberately disturbing, sometimes sickening, delicately unpeeled and undressed. From milking to tea. Small ornithology and kookaburra poetry. Slippage in point of view. Boyhood and bestiality, weird codes of heteronormativity.