In high school we stuck the stickers from our lunchtime fruit to a wall. We’d add to it, a few at a time, until it became an elaborate mural, a monument to how much fibre we were getting.
End of the Tour (2015)
I love movies about writers. I’ve read very little David Foster Wallace but still appreciated this movie as a character study. The film explores Wallace’s neuroses and growing disillusionment with fame and the literary world. Its highlights are the fantastic performances by Jesse Eisenberg (playing to type, as ever) and Jason Segel (who reveals some surprisingly solid dramatic chops).
A solid primer on the most famous whistleblower in US history and a serviceable examination of Edward Snowden the man. Oliver Stone has constructed a tense, visually engaging techno-thriller that is held together by the always exemplary Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt’s Snowden is wracked with turmoil as he struggles to reconcile his humanistic worldview with his increasing complicity in the US government’s infringement on civil rights.
I liked this a lot, but it also had issues. Nicholas Cage and Shailene ‘wooden’ Woodley give jarring performances as Snowden’s respective mentor and love interest, and the film was clearly hamstrung by Stone’s reverence for his subject. In this portrayal, Snowden is deified – a savant with few faults. Where’s a trace of ego? Why is Snowden so tiresomely secure in himself and his abilities? Why does he never waiver in his resolve to Do the Right Thing? Without adequately deconstructing this complex figure the movie devolves into politically self-serving wank.
Snowden is superficially entertaining, but I wish Stone had taken a more nuanced approach.
Just Another Week in Suburbia is the debut novel of Melbourne writer Les Zig. In it, Zig dares the reader to sit with one uncomfortable question: can you ever really know someone? The reader is encouraged to examine the enormous leap of faith it takes to be in a trusting relationship – a difficult but worthwhile venture.
Just Another Week in Suburbia spans seven days in the life of Casper Gray. Casper is a suburban everyman with a nice home, a secure job and a wife who challenges and complements him. Like many suburbanites he’s content (if uninspired) and comfortable (if a bit complacent).
One day a chance discovery upheaves Casper, leaving him questioning his marriage. At first, Casper struggles to find the courage to face this discovery, as doing so means dealing with the inevitable fallout. Instead he obsesses over it, and his preoccupations affect everything from his relationships to his professional judgement. Casper’s poor decision-making can be frustrating, but it’s what makes him such a complex and interesting character.
Just Another Week in Suburbia has some undoubtedly harrowing moments. It’s unflinchingly honest, particularly as Casper struggles to escape from his quagmire of insecurities. Throughout, Zig uses Casper’s ordeal to deconstruct the notion of traditional masculinity. He also explores the resentments that can form when two people with individual desires start a life together. But to label this a portrait of marital discord would be reductive; it’s a powerful cautionary tale about the importance of open communication. Zig’s writing demonstrates a great respect – even a reverence – for the union of marriage. Casper and Jane are well-written, believable characters with a flawed but complex relationship.
Outside of the relationship aspect, Zig authentically captures the malaise of suburban life. He also acknowledges the comedy of it: the way neighbours lose their minds scrutinizing property lines or how hauling garbage to the kerb at week’s end feels like a Herculean task.
Memorable side characters add further levity to the story, like Stuart, Casper’s pernickety vice principal; Luke, his affable womanising friend; and a slippery drug dealer nicknamed Jean Jacket. Then there’s Wallace, Casper’s scrappy fox terrier. Wallace’s every mannerism leaps off the page. He is a charming addition to this story.
Zig’s crisp prose and strong characterisation ensures the story breezes along at an enjoyable pace. The darker moments are perfectly balanced with wry humour and poignant observations about life. In one memorable moment, Casper posits that long-term relationships are like reading the same book over and over again. A dour assessment – until Casper’s co-worker points out that re-reading brings a new and deeper appreciation. “Some books you hold dear to you your whole life.”
And so it is with Just Another Week in Suburbia, a relationship story with real heart and emotional depth. My appreciation for it grows the more I meditate on its themes. I look forward to revisiting it one day. I’ve no doubt I’ll discover even more things to appreciate about its narrative.
One of my older pieces, ‘Bloodsport’, has found a home in ReadFin. ReadFin is the final journal to come out of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Writing and Publishing degree, from which I graduated in 2014.
I wrote this piece a few years ago but still vividly remember agonising over the sword fighting choreography. I sought out feedback about it and even watched a few shogun samurai movies on YouTube for reference. It was a fun exercise.
ReadFin received a limited print run, but a digital copy can be found here. Note that the editor has incorrectly credited me as ‘Tim O’Connell’, which is pretty disappointing. I’d hoped they would bring more care and attention to their final issue, but what can you do?
Issuu doesn’t like web browsers very much, so I’m also reproducing the story in text here. I hope you enjoy it.
I’m at the meeting point: a narrow cliff-edge. Waves crash onto rocks that jut from the ocean like jagged teeth. Countless samurais have died here coveting clan honour. A wrong step preludes a 300-foot drop. I hear a squawk that seems to echo my name. A lone opportunistic gull rides an updraft, a late-afternoon snack its only concern.
Sensing a presence, I turn. Miguel appears across the way, bathed in the light of the setting sun.
‘Fifteen minutes I’ve waited.’
‘Impatience,’ Miguel says, ‘is the folly of youth.’
I smirk. ‘Is that what this is? A lesson in patience?’
Miguel advances until we stand a sword-length apart at the cliff’s edge. Death, like the gull, is opportunistic, and could wing its way from any direction.
Miguel warns that my insolence will cost me. Unperturbed, I grin, disarming him with false confidence. I’m less experienced, but Miguel’s victory is anything but assured.
White-knuckled, we draw our swords. Our robes ripple in the wind. Miguel adopts our clan’s traditional stance; I fall into my variation of it.
Right legs leading, we lock eyes, each daring the other to strike first.
Miguel takes a quarter-step back. His weight shifts to his back foot. I follow his cue, my heel digging into the soft earth. My flesh is goose-pimpled, my muscles taut. Miguel, expressionless, wholly inhabits this moment.
The distant seabird screeches, her cry puncturing the silence.
I lunge forward.
Miguel guards high; I feint and strike low. We clash violently until my blade slips down the length of his. He shunts me off balance and leads me in a quarter-circle, his position a counterweight to my heavy blow. I hang on, enduring the hideous scraping of steel.
We separate explosively. My arm is nicked. I hiss and force it from my mind. Miguel lunges, hoping to capitalise on his modest blow. He is uncannily quick, but I deflect, taking his wrist and forcing him to relent. He leaps back.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘There’s still plenty of fight in me.’
Miguel mocks me with laughter.
The reprieve is short-lived. Our swords collide a dozen more times. We circle continuously. Alternately, we dominate, losing then wresting back control, overpowering and pushing back in increments. But our reserves are low. Miguel knows this. It’s in his eyes. For all our discipline, we are but flesh constructs.
We separate, pirouetting in sync. I toss my robe, my legs shifting free. Then I thrust forward in pre-emptive strike. Miguel is waiting. He always is. He parries then ripostes my blow. Sparks fly. Our clashing blades are deafening.
‘Gyaaaaah!’ My voice scrapes in my throat.
Our swords clash repeatedly. Dusk looms. I grit my teeth, my eyes fixed on my opponent. I lust for an opening. My strength is flagging, my mind clouding. Tiny mistakes accumulate. Miguel’s focus sharpens; his cuts come too close.
I take one last stand. With a two-handed grip, I draw back, enveloped by primal fury. I drive my blade with such ferocity. Miguel defends – barely. His face whitens. I strike again, thrashing and thrashing. He can’t match my intensity. This is the virtue of youth.
Miguel panics. He evades my blows, but the near misses spur me on. Relentless parrying exhausts him. Enraged, I draw back and swing again, but miscalculate and deal a heavy blow to nothing. Miguel creates distance and I feel, overwhelmingly, that a vital opportunity is wasted.
We recover our breath over two long seconds. Then, as if of one mind, we surge forward with declarative war cries. Miguel catches my blade in his. We lock in, our poised body language belying our struggle. We each hope to unnerve the other. Muscles quake. Our composure slips. Sheens of sweat form above our brows.
Miguel swiftly sidesteps and I stagger off-kilter. My balance is again misplaced; I strike a knee into my opponent, but the move is crude and proves my undoing. It happens so fast: I lurch sideways, my feet flirting with the cliff-edge, and—
I feel it before seeing it. It’s a clean hit. Miguel has saved me from a 300-foot drop, only to finish me himself. His blade protrudes from between my shoulders. We remain like this, outside time: Miguel savouring victory, perhaps contemplating the complexities of our relationship, while I am caught in the throes of death.
Miguel is static a long while, his form effortlessly arranged for the execution of his final blow. The light is changing. Dusk is becoming night and I am where I deserve to be: skewered on my brother’s blade.
I’m fading fast, my vision waning. But all’s right: this is the natural order of things. I focus, as if to immortalise the moment, find beauty in death. But the gull’s incessant screeches return and now the sound is frenzied. With the last of my strength, I look to the source, expecting the sky to be blotted with seagulls.
Instead, I see a barmaid from a neighbouring establishment. Her stride is long, her expression unamused. She proceeds to her announcement, a cross-armed harbinger.
‘Daniel! Cody! I’ve been calling for ten minutes! Dinner’s on the table!’
I stand tall, exhaling frustration. The illusion’s ruined: she’s no barmaid. My brother Cody releases his hair from its authentic samurai bun and steps down from the wooden stage-cum-cliff edge.
His face broadcasts disappointment. I pat between his shoulder blades, in the spot where his character slew mine, and assure him that our rehearsals have not been in vain, that our depiction of cartoon samurais Jack and Miguel are eerie in their accuracy, and that our scheduled display will be the highlight of FantasyCon.
Cody, looking serious, Miguel-esque, casts me a sidelong glance.
So my mum surprised me with this weird time capsule parcel yesterday. It contained long-forgotten photos, love letters, birthday cards, scribbles and other detritus. It also contained a handful of drawings from my teenage years. Sur-fucking-real!
These are extremely crude (let’s just say I’ve improved since), but I still wanted to share them. Apologies for the image quality. Each page was marred by a big fat crease down the middle and it’s apparent I had a penchant for featherweight pencil strokes, which don’t show up well in photographs.
At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.
‘Wh-who are you?’
‘I am the master of this castle.’
The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’
The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.
‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.
‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!’
Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’
The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’
‘And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.’
‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’
Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.
‘What do you want with me?’ she cried.
The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’
‘You were trespassing.’
‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’
The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.’
‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’
Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’
The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’
‘Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …’
‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’
‘Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.’
The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’
Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’
‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’
‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’
The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’
Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’
Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.
Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’
‘What is it?’
Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.’
Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.
‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’
With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.
The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’
The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’
Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’
The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’
Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’
‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’
‘Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.’
Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.
The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’
‘Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?’
‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’
‘Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.’
Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!’
The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’