Saturday, October 05, 2019

70. Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cooke

How nice is this.
I found this beautiful Penguin paperback at a garage sale on Rachel.  Unfortunately, somebody in the past scrawled the price with a grease pencil, marring its elegance (I will try to clean it with lighter fluid successfully cleaned it and it is fucking gorgeous and you can't have it!).  The film of this book has been on our radar for a while, but I was too scared to see it.  My wife watched it a while ago and quite liked it.  So I was torn whether or not to read the book first or buck up and watch the movie.  The book came first, which seems appropriate.  She will read the book next so we can compare how the order informs our viewing/reading of each.

The book was great.  It's not as harsh as I thought, more sad and desperate than cruel.  It's kind of Australian lost weekend, about a young man who makes some bad choices and gets (or allows himself) to be carried along until he hits near rock bottom.  My fear about the movie (and somewhat about the book) was general worry about cruelty and sadism, neither of which I am a big fan.  The Australian angle added to that.  I am not scared of Australia because of its dangerous wildlife and climate but rather the reputation of its people.  Mad Max, Wolf Creek and an Australian exchange student in my senior year of high school who overflowed with testosterone and seemed to have zero moral principles all have built up a reputation of an outback filled with Sheila-abusing rednecks. 

What made this book interesting and a pleasant surprise is that almost all the people in the book are actually quite friendly and generous.  I can't tell if Cooke is critiquing the people of rural Australia (the West, as it is called here) or the protagonist, who seems to dislike them so much.  There is a constant contrast between his loathing of the environment and desperately wanting to get back to civilized and relatively temperate Sydney and how much pride and pleasure the locals seem to have with their hometown.  Grant, the protagonist, blurs his dislike for the wasteland with his dislike for the people.  To me, this seemed like a bourgeois snobbery, as they kept being super generous to him and super non-judgemental.  Yes, all they do is drink constantly, massacre kangaroos and seem to have loose sexual mores but there is only one slightly selfish character in the book.

Wake in Fright does capture that "you are here now" moment of a man whose life has spiraled out of his control in pretty awesome fashion. Driving around the outback in the back seat of a big cadillac, stuffed between beefy Joe and a kangaroo-hunting greyhound, drunk out of his mind, with loaded rifles pointed all over the place, Grant is certainly living.  Everybody else but him (and the kangaroos) are having fun.  While exhilarating and frightening in the moment, that is the kind of experience people now manufacture.  For Grant, it is a horror that he wants to get out of but can't.  I think he is the one who comes off looking bad here.

This description of the characters of Western Australia in this book is inaccurate and pejorative.

1 comment:

meezly said...

Here's my review!