Review: ‘Just Another Week in Suburbia’

 

just-another-week-in-suburbia-187316436Just 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.

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Review: Page Seventeen Issue Eleven

p17issue11coverPage Seventeen returns from its hiatus with its eleventh issue and a new, glossier format. There’s clear emphasis on the new, as editor Beau Hillier invites you to abandon stuffy old front-to-back linear reading in favour of a novel pathway system. (Think those Choose Your Own Adventure books you read as a child.) This small touch personalises the reading experience, allowing you to shape the overarching narrative in a small way.

But, of course, what you really want to know about are the stories. Kathy George’s opener ‘Blessed are the cracked …’ takes a lateral look at the nature of creativity, demonstrating the sometimes obtuse ways artists find inspiration. (For more on this topic, check out the Busybird website, where Page Seventeen contributors were invited to share their processes or anecdotes which have inspired their work. Mine is reproduced on this blog here.)

In ‘A step back in time’, James May takes a soul-searching trip back to his hometown of Adelaide, seeking answers, catharsis and a new perspective. This was a visceral piece, full of grit and longing.

With ‘Protest’, Beverley Lello crafts an exquisite literary tale about acceptance and marital dissonance. Meanwhile, Lois Murphy’s standout ‘Mosquito bites’ tells a ripping yarn about a likeable-but-downtrodden young man with an addition to his already-lengthy list of mistakes: allowing his loved ones to believe he is dead. The story starts with a memorable one-two punch – ‘We were pretty pissed off when my cousin showed up at his own funeral. All that effort, those wasted tears.’ – and takes several unforeseen turns, with the cousin cutting an unexpectedly tragic figure.

In ‘Onshore, offshore, unsure’, Eril Riley uses poetic language to tell of one family’s traumatic struggle for asylum. Hemmed in body-to-body with other survivors, the protagonist waxes philosophical while enduring discomforts like urinating in a battered metal drum. This story made me appreciate the freedom and luxuries we take for granted.

Other highlights include Joshua Coldwell’s ‘Swan song’, a black comedy about a young man’s obsession to uphold the family legacy (by imparting witty or memorable last words), and Geraldine Borella’s ‘Achilles and the maple leaf’, a tale of unlikely friendship, and a touching reminder that sometimes the universe smiles upon us, bringing people into our lives precisely when we need them.

Warwick Sprawson continues to impress with ‘Spin’, a tension-filled casino story about a dealer with a sizeable (ahem) chip on his shoulder.

There’s also a veritable smorgasbord of poetry – much of it esoteric, all of it thought-provoking. I’ve never had much of an ear for poetry, but particularly enjoyed Katherine E Seppings’ quiet, assured ‘Seville’; Paul South’s perplexing ‘No sense’; and Jude Aquilina’s ‘Love suffers’, which begins:

Love suffers from a plague of clichés.
It claims to gleam like a bolt
of silken sun through winter cloud
but actually, it’s sharp and quick
like a tattooing needle.

Page Seventeen Issue Eleven is available for purchase here.

Review: ‘Doorway’

Image‘Doorway’ is a short story about grief. It features faintly supernatural elements, and has great pacing and characterisation.

There are three things in particular that I liked about this story:

  1. That it explored what it’s like to lose your family, or a parental figure. Even as an adult there is consolation in having parents (or aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc) as a safety net. When Google can’t answer my question, my parents are the next logical step. Morbid as it may be, I’ve often wondered (or more aptly, fretted) about what it would be like if this suddenly ceased to exist. Through Amy’s loss of her Aunt Zara, ‘Doorway’ explores this issue in a substantial and satisfying manner.
  2. The surprise developments that occur later on. Just when I thought I had these characters pegged, things started shifting. For a story about loss, there’s a real buoyancy to the narrative. Aunt Zara, in particular, brought a lot of humour.
  3. The economy of the prose. A lot of ground gets covered in this story, but you wouldn’t know it by its brevity. Zigomanis has a talent for implying where others would overstate. The relationships Amy has with her aunt and husband felt truthful and full of nuance.

I heartily recommend ‘Doorway’, and look forward to reading more by Les Zigomanis.