Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

Journal: 059

Cat's Eye Audiobook | Margaret Atwood | Audible.co.uk

After years as a truck driver, half a century! (an exaggeration, I had a 15 year white collar gap in my 30s, 40s) I am a little bit intuitive, not the way natural drivers and mechanics are, but enough to often belatedly realise, feel when things are going wrong – the smells of burning grease, oil, electric wiring, the feel of unbalanced wheels, trailers swaying or sliding, vibrations from the engine or tailshaft, changes in the constant noises of the engine and the wind.

I drive by ear, changing gear with the rise and fall of the revs, choosing the right gear to hold my speed at a given volume of noise through towns or roadworks. Until this week anyway, when books and blogging unexpectedly intervened.

A year or so ago, no doubt enticed by free books, I opened an Audible account which subsequently morphed into one book plus occasional freebies for $16/month. And so I began accumulating a library which I could not access. Ok, which I could not cable and was too incompetent to bluetooth from my phone to my truck radio.

This week, wanting to read Cat’s Eye for MARM (which has co-hosts, so here and here) I downloaded it and went out and bought expensive noise cancelling headphones. Noise cancelling! I can feel the base rumble of the engine but I can’t hear at all the wind around the cabin, the constant woosh of the air over the engine beneath my feet, the high-revving of the motor. I’m deaf to my truck!

I have some excellent books in my Audible library but I’m going to have to space them out. Listening through headphones while remaining conscious of the truck requires far more concentration than just letting all the noise of the truck and the radio speakers wash over me, more concentration than I can manage for any length of time.

I’ve read a few Margaret Atwoods, The Handmaid’s Tale & The Testaments, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin (the cover is totally familiar but I don’t remember one word of the story). She’s a good writer though her SF lacks imagination compared with greats like Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin. I didn’t have any expectations of Cat’s Eye – except that it’s long – and I looked nothing up, prepared to allow the story to speak for itself.

The protagonist, Elaine, is 8 or 9 when WWII ends and is in her mid-fifties at the time of writing, so we can say she was born in say, 1936 which I’m guessing is roughly true of Atwood also, and the book is set in about 1990. The novel is framed as Elaine coming from Vancouver where she lives to Toronto where she grew up, for a retrospective of her paintings, but mostly consists of her coming of age, from grade school through to her mid twenties.

Elaine’s father is an entomologist. When she’s young, and later in school holidays the family, father, mother, Elaine and Steven, her older brother, travel the forests in their old Studebaker, collecting bugs, camping or staying in cheap motels. Then when she’s 8 father gets a job at the university and they buy a new, unfinished house in the Toronto suburbs.

Every now and again we duck back to the ‘present day’, to the week or so Elaine is spending in John, her artist ex-husband’s apartment (while he is away). They have a daughter and she has another daughter with her second husband. I get the impression that Atwood makes herself an artist rather than a writer because she likes to philosophize about painting but also because it is easier to talk about movements in painting than in writing.

But mostly we make our way through Elaine’s childhood, year by year, structured around the two or three girls with whom she is friends and around her brother. These children Carol, Grace, Cordelia, Steven, are ciphers – temporary constructs against whom she can contrast herself and her development, abandoned when they are no longer needed. Cleverly, Atwood tells each year in some detail, detail which the Elaine of a year or two later has often forgotten.

As she moves on from being Steven’s sister to Carol’s friend to Cordelia’s friend what we observe is her socialisation from tomboy to young woman. And it is this process of what makes a girl and then a woman that is the core of the book.

Right from the beginning Atwood makes it look as though this is the story of Elaine’s relationship with the darker (I don’t mean skin colour) Cordelia, but it is nothing of the sort. Cordelia is a year older, and one or two years ahead. Elaine is willingly submissive to her, until at last Cordelia forces her to descend from the bridge over the ravine on the way home from school, abandons her when she falls through the ice into the creek and nearly dies of hypothermia. Cordelia goes off to a different school, Elaine starts high school, and then Atwood brings Cordelia back, in the same year as Elaine, makes Elaine the confident one, because that suits her narrative.

Later, Cordelia drops out of sight for years, Steven is sent off to California, Carol and Grace are long gone. Elaine studies Art History, goes from virgin to two days a week lover of her drawing teacher, another relationship involving submission, starts going out with John. The drawing teacher’s other two day a week student/lover gets pregnant and has a messy illegal abortion. Cordelia reappears, briefly, in a mental home. Elaine refuses to help or even visit her after the first time. The story stretches on for a while, but the coming of age is done and the rest is just filler.

I enjoy coming of ages and I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed too ‘living’ in Canada for a while, especially 40s, 50s Toronto, though I expect I would have enjoyed it more if I were familiar with the areas she’s writing about. I find Atwood to be a fine writer but only a so-so story teller and so it was here.

.

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye, first pub. 1988. Audiobook read by Laurel Lefkow, 2013. 15 hrs 17 min.

Audible Library

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
Joan D Vinge, The Snow Queen
Christos Tsialkos, Merciless Gods
Joy Ellis, Their Lost Daughters
Charlotte Bronte, The Professor
Thomas Keneally, The Pact
Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe
Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide
HG Wells, The Science Fiction Collection
F Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamzov
Andy Weir, The Martian
William Gibson, Agency
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
James Joyce, Ulysses
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
GG Marquez, Love in the Time Of Cholera
F Dostoyevsky, Crime & Punishment
George Eliot, Middlemarch
M Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Samuel Delaney, Dhalgren

Some of these I have read since buying the audiobook, some I own but won’t get the chance to read anytime soon and would like to listen to again, and a couple I wouldn’t have chosen but got for free. And Melanie, The Snow Queen will be next.

Madura Sunrise

Journal: 058

Yesterday morning I woke up way out in the desert at Madura, 600 km after the last town, Penong SA, 525 km to the next, Norseman WA, and another 725 km after Norseman to Perth (map). I made it home around 8.00pm but couldn’t face another 3 or 4 hours getting my last trailer in, so that cost me most of this morning. Now, after lunch and a glass of wine, I can finally attend to my bloggerly duties.

The good news is that while I was on the road Victoria announced that it had got on top of its second wave Covid outbreak and was coming out of lockdown. The next good news was that the WA’s hard border was down and that visitors would be allowed in from states without ongoing infections. The bad news was that this doesn’t yet include Victoria and that, unlike the citizens of both Vic and WA, truck drivers who travel between the two must continue to self-isolate. Still, I have my fingers crossed for Christmas.

[Just then, I wrote something, deleted it and somehow deleted the previous paragraph with it. Luckily, Undo worked just fine. Did we always have Undo?]

Otherwise, I had an unremarkable trip. It rained. It’s rained every trip for as far back as I can remember. At least with the coming of spring the rain seems a bit warmer. And I saw two Mallee Fowl. In the Mallee (north western Victoria). I’ve seen them a few times over here in the west, going into mines in mallee scrub country, but despite all the years I lived there, this was the first time I’d seen them in Victoria. Which leads me to where are the great flocks of cockatoos, galahs and rosellas that we used to see as kids? I still see some of course, but nothing like we used to, nor magpies. Every other bird these days is a crow. I blame glysophate.

That’s the reading/listening for three trips or six weeks down there, representing maybe half a dozen half-considered and abandoned posts, mostly because by the time I sit down at my computer I’ve forgotten all the arguments with which I was going to dazzle you. But two American books to which I listened on the way home made me think some more about ‘the Independent Woman’.

The Independent Woman in Australian Literature was, I’m sure you all know by now, the title of my M.Litt dissertation. Its thesis is that Australian women writers developed an archetypal heroine who eschews marriage in favour of career, that this is an alternative to the male archetype – mates in the bush/brave, larrikin Anzacs beloved of politicians; and that this archetype seems peculiarly Australian though with possible antecedents in early English Lit.

What started me thinking was Robert Heinlein’s Beyond this Horizon (1942). The principal theme of the work, as was so often the case with Heinlien, is supermen – in the Nietzschean sense – but here the hero meets a woman who might be his equal, including in the wearing of guns. His response is, “You’re not one of those independent women, are you?” before wrestling her to the floor, taking away her gun, and forcing her to accept a kiss. At which she falls in love with him and becomes the mother of his (super) children.

Next up was a Danielle Steel, Power Play (2014), which was less formulaic than I had feared. We follow two CEOs of major corporations who have very contrasting years. One, a woman, long divorced is both competent and moral; the other a guy with a wife who gave up being a lawyer to be his perfect helpmeet, who sleeps with his young women employees, and who has a second family in another city. Interestingly, the guy has a woman chairman of the board who forces him to resolve the two wives thing (Spoiler: they both leave him).

It is my opinion, though without going to the trouble of collecting actual evidence, that US writers shy away from allowing their women too much independence and almost invariably have them, in the end, deferring to men. Prime example: Marge Simpson. Possible exception: Willa Cather.

In my next post, later this week (touch wood), I’ll address Brona’s #AusReadingMonth2020 and also my coming Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Part II Week (second or third week of Jan. 2021).

Recent audiobooks 

Gene Wolfe (M, USA), The Land Across (2013) – SF (sort of)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), The Traitor’s Story (2016)
John Grisham (M, USA), Sycamore Row (2013) – Crime
Jacqueline Winspear (F, Eng), In This Grave Hour (2017) – Crime
Jenny Siller (F, USA), Iced (2000) – Crime
Mark Twain (M, USA), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Nick Spalding (M, Eng), Love and Sleepless Nights (2012) – Comedy?
Neil White (M, Eng), Next to Die (2013) – Crime
JD Robb (F, USA), Born in Death (2006) – SF/Crime
Edith Wharton (F, USA), A Son at the Front (1923)
Lee Child (M, Eng), A Wanted Man (2012) – Crime
Ben Lieberman (M, USA), Odd Jobs (2013)– Crime. DNF
Petra Durst-Benning (F, Ger), The Glassblower (2014) – Hist.Fic
Gaston Leroux (M, Fra), The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) – Crime
Bradford Morrow (M, USA), The Forgers (2013)– Crime. DNF. Boring
F Herbert, B Ransom (M, USA), The Ascension Factor (1988) – SF
Unknown (M, Eng), Beowulf (700?)
Danielle Steel (F, USA), Power Play (2014)
L Ziepe (F, Eng), The Morning After the Wedding Before (2019) – Comedy
Bruce Porter (M, USA), Snatched (2016)– NonFic.
Mickey Spillane, M Collins (M, USA), King of the Weeds (2014) – Crime
Robert Heinlein (M, USA), Beyond this Horizon (1942)– SF

Currently reading

KS Prichard (F, Aust/Vic), The Pioneers
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), Saving Francesca
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), The Place on Dalhousie
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Grand Sophy

Recent Purchases

Zorah Neale Hurston (F, USA), Jonah’s Gourd Vine
Elena Ferrante (F, Ita), The Lying Life of Adults
Sally Rooney (F, Eng), Conversations with Friends
Haruki Murakmi (M, Jap), The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Thomas Pynchon (M, USA), V
Ursula Le Guin (F, USA) The Unreal and the Real Vol.s 1,2

Zane Grey

Journal: 057

Zane Grey (1872-1939) was born in Zanesville, Ohio. How cool is that? Zane was his mother’s surname and the city was built on land owned by her family. His original first name was Pearl, as in pearl grey, the colour of Queen Victoria’s mourning dress (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true).

He is of course famous as a writer of cowboy stories, 90 odd all-up. Grey lived in Pennsylvania from 1905-1918, then in California. He was married, had numerous affairs and travelled extensively (within USA). From 1923-1930 he had a cabin in Arizona. The book I listened to recently, Captives of the Desert seems to have been written in 1925. It is set in desert country in Arizona which he describes with great affection. What’s most interesting is that although this is ostensibly the story of John Curry, a cowboy  – a herder of intrepid tourists rather than of cows, and in fact the properties in the desert seem to mostly run sheep – the other principal characters are all women: Mary who is married to a no-hoper; Mary’s friend Catherine who has come out from the east to be with her sister who is an invalid; and Magdalene, a young Navajo woman who has been away to school and now finds herself neither western nor native American.

The feeling I got is that Zane Grey is far more liberal than you might expect from a writer of pulp fiction for rural working men. He has a lot of sympathy for the shit the Navajos have to put up with and in particular the difficult situation Magdalene is in, where her education is not valued by her fellows and yet there is no place for her in white society.

Curry is hopelessly in love with Mary. Magdalene and maybe Catherine are hopelessly in love with Curry. Mary slowly comes to despair of her husband, who leaves her when he realises Mary is not the heiress he hoped for.

While we are driving old cars or riding horses and mules through desert canyons, dealing warily with the local native Americans, and conducting tourists on trail rides, the husband is having another shot at making his fortune selling liquor – which was banned on Indian reservations in Arizona by state law and subsequently by federal law (1920-1933). Magdalene gets pregnant; various people get shot; and yes there is a happy ending, two in fact.

Both Mary and Curry are very nineteenth century. Mary in her determination to be a good wife to a man she despises, and Curry in his honourableness, his wish to serve Mary but to not compromise her marriage. I found Captives of the Desert to be good, thoughtful reading (listening).


I didn’t mean to write so much about what is after all an obscure book, but Zane Grey is interesting for the light he shines, or the study of him shines, on the Bulletin school of Australian writing. As with many other issues, 1950s US movie culture – in this case cowboy and indian movies – stands between us and a proper understanding of where society was at pre WWII.

There are lots of things I haven’t done that I mean to and following up the myth of the American ‘Noble Frontiersman’ (in Canada as well as the US) and how that feeds into Australian Legend is one of them. I wonder if I can get ES Ellis on audiobook.


After not this last trip but the one before, I didn’t look for any freight at the end of the week and was happy, even on my own, to have a weekend at home. As it happens, I loaded the following Thurs and stayed on in Perth a couple of days, to be out of iso for just one day for the first time in months, had tea at Milly’s and took our granddaughter out to lunch for her birthday.

As you know, Melanie/GTL and I were working on The Slap and in the course of our interchanges I sent her a photo of a dingo which came up to my truck at Nullarbor station. She promptly imagined a whole story around Bingo the dingo, including adopting it and heading off on a road trip in a red convertible. I turned around very quickly in Melbourne and Bingo was still there when I got back, and although it’s not apparent in this photo, she’s clearly a bitch who has just had pups. So now it’s Lady Bingo and maybe the whole Thelma and Louise scenario (Don’t do it Melanie!).


I’m settling down with the new WordPress editor and have even converted the Truck Pix page of my work website to a slideshow, following a hint from WG. Next step is to play with Tables which Karen/Booker Talk makes a start on here in Comments.


Did you see WG’s most recent Monday Musings where her 100 year old father burst into song. We got onto my own father singing – in 1959, just me and him on the road from Leongatha to Sea Lake (500 km). His grade 6 had done HMS Pinafore for speech night, and he sang it to me to wile away the hours.

I only have Pirates of Penzance and The Gondoliers in the truck , but Pinafore is the one that has stuck and I was silly enough to boast that I could still sing Dear Little Buttercup (in falsetto!). Despite requests, that won’t be inflicted on my readers. But it reminded me that three or four years later in his first (and only) headmastership, Dad got his teachers to perform the Death of Julius Caesar – you know: “He was stabbed in the rotunda.” “Oh! That must have been painfull!”. He played Calpurnia and his “I told him Julie , don’t go, don’t go” in falsetto is still with me. (It’s actually Rinse the Blood off my Toga).

 

Recent audiobooks 

Mudrooroo (M, Aust/WA), Wild Cat Falling (1965) – DNF. Read by the author whose older ‘university’ voice was just wrong for the story
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
Tom Franklin (M, USA), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010) – Crime
Joy Fielding (F, USA), Someone is Watching (2015) – DNF. Shoot me if I pick up another Joy Fielding. She gets off on gratuitous violence.
Tess Gerritsen (F, USA), The Bone Garden (2007) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Zane Grey (M, USA), Captives of the Desert (1926) – Western
Lisa Kleypas (F, USA), Sugar Daddy (2006) – Crime

Currently reading

Ivan Čapovski (M, Macedonia), The Sorrow of Miles Franklin…
Jessica White (F, Aust/Qld), A Curious Intimacy
JD Salinger (M, USA), The Catcher in the Rye
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Talisman Ring
Milan Kundera (M, Czech), The Farewell Party

Australian Grunge

Journal: 056

Melanie at Grab The Lapels and I are planning to buddy read and review Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (in about four weeks) and I thought I would provide some background about Tsiolkas’ writing, hence the title of today’s Journal.

But let me first say here just how angry I am that WordPress have steamrolled the introduction of block editing. Like all modern editors WordPress of course knows much better than I what I am attempting to achieve. I used to use HTML to produce single spaced lists. The new editor is happy for me to do this. In draft. And then publishes the list double spaced. I pay them for my business site and if I can’t produce simple posts with lists and pix on my phone then I will take my business to someone who can.

Yes I am sure there is a block for single spaced lists and blocks for photos. But I drive trucks 15 hours a day for a week or ten days at a time; apart from audiobooks I am barely reading; my Blog Unread folder is backing up alarmingly; and I just can’t be stuffed learning yet another new system.

And before I go on I must say thank you to Karen at BookerTalk who has dedicated a lot of her posts this year, and much time and energy commenting, to WordPress features and the new editor.

Back to Tsiolkas. He was born in 1965, in Melbourne, and went to school at Blackburn High – as did two of my kids, Psyche and Lou, a decade later. His parents were migrants from Greece. He’s gay. His first novel was Loaded (1995). The Slap (2008) was his fourth.

I wrote an essay on Loaded and Australian grunge in 2005:

The work of a number of young authors published for the first time in the 1990s, commencing with Andrew McGahan (Praise, 1992) and including Justine Ettler (River Ophelia, 1995), Linda Jaivin (Eat Me, 1995) and Christos Tsiolkas (Loaded, 1995), has been given the label Australian Grunge.

“At the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1998 the Aust.Lit. discusssion group including McGahan, Fiona McGregor, Jaivin and Tsiolkas “all remonstrated at how hateful they found the label and how they did not wish to be associated with it.”

Grunge seems to have been a fashion that passed. Internationally it had its antecedents in Beat (William Burroughs) and Punk (Kathy Acker). Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting came out in 1993. In Australia we had William Dick and Mudrooroo in the 50s and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip in 1977, but that’s about it. What druggy, inner-suburban novels have I missed?

I wrote a bit about Loaded. How about:

Loaded is even more pernicious. Sex between men mocks the whole notion of mateship – the great bond that unites and succours the ‘legends’ in the bush. Ari struggles with his identity as a man, as a man in Australia, and as a man of Greek extraction. “I’m a man I say in a deep drawl. And I take it up the arse. Of course you do, she answers, you’re Greek, we all take it up the arse.”

Jaivin, who was older than the others, and whose Eat Me was actually middle class erotica, quickly produced a couple of ‘grunge’ novels to take advantage of her unexpected notoriety. If you ever see Rock ‘n Roll Babes from Outer Space give it a try, it’s quite amusing.

The others moved on. McGahan wrote one more and then his next was a police procedural. The next of Tsiolkas’ that I read was Dead Europe (2005). I seem to remember an Australian gay man in Athens and then up in the mountains seeking out rellos.

At this point I am down about 30 cm – maybe 50 lines by 12 words across, so 600 words. Despairing sigh. Karen! Where’s the word count?

I was going to write something about the books I listened to this last trip, but they were boring, why bother. Yesterday I started four and DNF’d them all, one after 10 hours that wasn’t going anywhere, two I just didn’t like, and one by a Palestinian-American that was hopeless, ie. completely bereft of hope in the face of the Zionist juggernaut.

WA has tightened up its Covid rules once again for travellers from Melbourne and so I am back in isolation. I always thought I could survive solitary confinement if I had enough books. Now I am not so sure.

I’ve copied the lists of current reading from an earlier Journal, which I’ll overwrite. If they stay single spaced they’re in, if not they’re out. But of course WordPress knows I don’t really want two empty lines before the lists (or perhaps it’s simply against the rules). Now where the hell are Tags and Categories.

Recent audiobooks 

Yelena Akhtiorskaya (F, USA/Ukraine), Panic in a Suitcase (2014)
Lauren Francis-Sharma (F, USA/Trinidad), ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (2014)
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), The True Darcy Spirit (2015) – Romance
Charles Willeford (M, USA), New Hope for the Dead (1985) – Crime
Erle Stanley Gardner (M, USA), The Case of the Crying Swallow (1947) – Crime
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Dying (2015) DNF
Susan Abulhawa (F, Palestine/USA), The Blue between Sky and Water (2015) DNF
Erica Ferencik (F, USA), Into The Jungle (2019) DNF
Joy Fielding (F, USA), All the Wrong Places (2019) – Crime DNF

Currently reading

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown

Strong Motion, Johnathan Franzen

Journal: 55

 

Strong Motion Franzen

‘Strong Motion’ is a term associated with earthquakes. Franzen’s Strong Motion (1992), ostensibly an ecological thriller about artificially induced earthquakes, is really a literary work about a relationship, between Louis, 21, unemployed, and Reneé, 29, a post-grad seismologist at Harvard. I don’t know Franzen, I don’t know his place in US or world literature, but I recognise his name and was was willing to give up the 21 plus hours this book – read well by Scott Aille – took: a night through northern Victoria, a day across South Australia, Renmark, Burra, Port Augusta, Ceduna, another night, out across the Nullarbor, and with the morning, on into Western Australia.

Franzen (b. 1959) is a literary novelist, columnist and educator. A quote by one of his students: “He read our stories so closely that he often started class with a rundown of words that were not used quite correctly in stories from that week’s workshop” is amusing as I noted that Franzen had someone waiting for a printer to “divulge” a printout, as if printers knew what they were printing, when he should have used the more prosaic “disgorge”.

My mind wanders. The 1990s were a decade when ecology was the concern and not global warming. In the 1990s in my circle (me, Milly, Lou) it was de rigeur to read Ben Elton who had become famous with a movie about rockets in the Australian desert (Stark) – and yes, I saw every episode of The Young Ones and most of Blackadder, I just didn’t associate them with Elton the novelist. Elton lived for a while in Fremantle and was treated as WA’s most prominent public intellectual, a role now granted to a chancer from the upper classes who lived for years mining mum and dad investors on the stock exchange until one of his gambles paid off spectacularly well and now he is a Boyer lecturer (I cringe for ‘our’ ABC).

My mind wanders to Elton because halfway through Strong Motions the most likeable  protagonist is shot. One of Elton’s books has a protagonist in a wheel chair who just as you are getting fully involved with him is run down and killed and the book goes on without him. I still remember the shock, though nothing else except that the book is set in London.

The ecological thriller part of the book concerns a Boston-based petrochemical and weapons company, Sweeting-Aldren. I immediately think of Dow, indelibly associated with the Vietnam War and napalm (but not as it happens, Boston-based). Louis’ grandfather had been a S-A exec. and on re-marrying had invested his $20 mil fortune in S-A shares which on his death had gone to his new wife. At the beginning of the book Louis goes to visit his step-grandmother only to find she has fallen off her bar stool in a localized earthquake and died. The shares then go to Louis’ mother who shares her good fortune with his sister but not with Louis or with his father, a history professor.

Reneé meanwhile comes to believe that the localized earthquakes being felt in the Boston suburb of Peabody are being caused by S-A pumping toxic waste into a disused very deep (6 miles) well. Louis and Reneé meet and begin to sleep together. I don’t mean to go on with a full account of the plot. Reneé has self-image problems. Reneé says she does not intend to mother Louis, but does. Louis has family problems. Louis has a girl in Texas who has plenty of problems of her own. Louis tells Reneé he loves her. Louis goes off with the other girl. Reneé has an abortion. There’s a whole other sub-plot going on with an anti-abortion Southern Baptist church. The earthquake/villainous chemical company thing comes to a head.

It is all very well done. Louis is the principal protagonist, but Franzen is omniscient and quite happy to look at a given scene from Reneé’s POV and occasionally from someone else’s. No, I don’t think he is as convincing giving Reneé’s POV, especially when she speaks passionately as a women’s libber (or a woman during sex).

I get the impression reading up on Franzen that, despite his appearance on the cover of Time as the ‘Great American Novelist’ (in 2010), he has never really made the transition from really good to ‘great’, and that like many other ‘really good’ novelists before him, in a decade or two he will be forgotten.

Did I like it, Melanie? Yes I did. Though for once I wasn’t really keen on the two protagonists getting/staying together and thought they could have done better with other people.

Now, how am I doing in this time of Covid? For once the rules didn’t change as I was crossing the border. My electronic passes into SA and WA worked fine. To meet SA’s rule about being tested every 7 days, I did a second test in WA before I left and that carried me over, though I saw a sign saying that I could get tested at the border if necessary. I got in to Perth yesterday (Friday) morning and did a test when I finished unloading to meet WA’s 48 hour rule. No result yet. There is talk of WA and SA having the same testing regimen, but probably not in my lifetime.

More importantly, Milly says I can see her once I have my test result. But I still have to wear a mask. Seeing Milly, though still not Gee and the grandkids, probably makes waiting 14 days till I’m clear bearable, but as it happens I have the makings of another load (to Leongatha again) and so should be on my way by Thursday.

 

Johnathan Franzen, Strong Motion, first pub. 1992. Brilliance Audio, 2013, read by Scott Aiello

Recent audiobooks 

Aaron Elkins (M, USA), Deceptive Clarity (1987) – Crime
Kendra Elliot (F, USA), Spiraled (2015) – Crime
Jasper Fforde (M, Eng), Shades of Grey (2009) – SF
Robert Wilson (M, Eng), Capital Punishment (2013) – Crime
Michael Connelly (M, USA), Bloodwork (1998) – Crime
Loren D Estleman (F, USA), Ragtime Cowboys (2014) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Annie Ernaux (F, Fra), I Remain in Darkness (1999) – Memoir
Robert Pobi (M, USA), American Woman (2014) – Crime
Patti Henry (F, USA), And Then I Found You (2013) – Romance
Fannie Flagg (F, USA), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987/2000) Abridged to 2 hours. I wouldn’t have read it if I’d noticed, but it’s read by the author
Gigi Pandian (F, USA), Pirate Vishnu (2013) – Crime
Peyton Marshall (F, USA), Good House (2014) – SF
Johnathan Franzen (M, USA), Strong Motion (1992)

Currently reading

Thea Astley (F, Aust/Qld), Collected Stories
Thea Astley (F, Aust/Qld), Drylands
Paul Magrs (M, Eng), Exchange

 

 

 

Covid-19, Testing, Testing

Journal: 054

SF Naked Women

Why have I commenced with three naked women? Because I can? Maybe. Or because WG and I and Neil@ Kallaroo diverted ourselves in the Comments on a recent Monday Musings to a discussion of old time SF covers and naked women in bubble helmets. A quick survey of my shelves brought up these just in the Vs and Ws but not any bubble helmets, and in fact I would say the majority of my 1960s and 70s covers were space ships, as below.

Jack Vance The Face

So, does this presage a change in direction of my reviewing. In short, no. I’ve been blogging more than five years without exhausting my stocks of pre-War Australian women writers, and with judicious up-topping will easily manage another five. To even make a dent in my shelves of SF would take me another lifetime.

But to the matter at hand. I am home, in Perth. Let us put up a truck pic and restart.

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When last we spoke I was masked up in Melbourne, loading for home, looking forward with some trepidation to crossing from Victoria into SA and more particularly from SA into WA. I loaded three trailers with steel, topped up with cars and set out once more, on Thursday, up through the Mallee to Ouyen and into SA at Pinnaroo. SA require drivers to obtain an entry permit on line. I’d submitted an application but been refused. I complained. Two very nice clerks from SAPol phoned me separately to get me going. Turns out my permit for my previous trip was valid for six months. Problem solved.

The WA border was just as easy. In the two or three weeks since my last crossing WA had instituted an online permit called G2G, presumably Good to Go. I got one. The policeman at the border – police people are so young these days – scanned my phone with his phone, issued me stern instructions to get a virus test within 48 hours of that minute, 9pm Friday, and another on the eleventh day – I was given a chart showing that the eleventh day after a Friday is a Tuesday – on pain of a $50,000 fine.

I forgot to say I’m not allowed in SA without a test every seven days. Seems to me the chances of WA’s eleventh day and SA’s seventh day being the same day are pretty slim.

I had my 48 hour test this afternoon (Sunday) at Royal Perth where I was met at the door – separate from the main door of course – by two preliminary surveyors, passed on to a receptionist who took down much the same info and then after a short wait, to a serious senior woman, nurse or doctor I don’t know, who was at some pains to discuss my situation, the situation of truck drivers in general, and to explain the procedure – swabs from the back of my throat and from each nostril. It’s meant to be uncomfortable rather than painful but the back of my nose was still stinging an hour later.

I had been concerned that if I was ever going to get infected it would be in a waiting room full of people waiting to be tested, but as I should have guessed from WA’s usual daily zero cases, I was the only customer.

Homer, the friendly manager of the transport company I load out of Melbourne for, has a new client and wants me to do the first load from Perth to Melbourne (probably because his own drivers refused). I’m loading one trailer tomorrow just as soon as I can get it unloaded and I think I’m expected in Melbourne Friday. I hope he’s not reading this because I can’t get away early enough to be there before the following Monday.

The big problem of course is that as of last night Victoria has declared a ‘State of Disaster’ and tomorrow will start closing businesses. I can always unload at the transport depot if the client is unable to receive me, but will I then find a load home? And having loaded will SA let me transit, will WA let me back in?

Tune in this time in ten days for the next exciting episode. Chicken Man! (oops, sorry, wrong promo).

Covid-19, the Second Wave

Journal: 053

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All masked up in Melbourne. I didn’t know selfies were reversed, which you can tell, well I can, by the name on the truck behind me. Melbourne is up to 500 new Covid cases a day, the rest of Australia maybe 20. Melbourne is in lockdown while Sydney partys. They’ll get theirs.

I set out on this current trip last Thursday. The Victorian government had already made masks mandatory in Melbourne, but the big new development (for me) is WA’s announcement that drivers from Melbourne and Sydney will be tested for Covid at the border and not allowed to proceed until the test results are returned a couple of days later. I’m not sure how this is going to work, there’s no where to park on the WA side of the border until Mundrabilla roadhouse, nearly 100 km further on (and it’s illegal to carry fresh food with you!). I’m hoping we’ll be allowed to proceed to Norseman, another 600 km and the first town on the WA side of the Nullarbor. I should be there by Friday, I’ll let you know what happens.

All small beer compared with the preparations for civil war in the US. Trump’s troops trained to fanaticism on the southern border, Black Water mercenaries, US Marine wannabees and dropouts, airlifted into Democrat controlled cities, ostensibly to control anarchist protesters (and moms) but really to intimidate POC/workers attempting to vote in person in November – 98 days to go. Republicans mobilising tens of thousands of “poll watchers”, reinforced by ex-Navy Seals, in support, the defence forces hopefully lining up with the government but police forces – looking at you Seattle – showing signs of swinging the other way.

Trump you’ll notice is barely campaigning, he obviously believes he doesn’t have to. And then there’s Facebook and Russia. Meanwhile Covid-19 is a firestorm raging through the populations of the USA and all the other poor or poorly managed nations (I read somewhere that the US is a third world nation with a very rich plutocracy and a shrinking and increasingly irrelevant middle class).

I follow Trump news on the internet obsessively. Obviously! And it struck me as I began to write this in the few hours before I go out to load home just how much has changed in the two weeks since the last Journal. One word – Portland. I really hope that in another two weeks I’m just another crazed conspiracy theorist. And I really, really hope that by my 70th in March it is all over – Trump, Covid-19, Recession. Don’t like my chances.

What else have I been doing? I was nearly at the end of my 14 days quarantine in Perth when a very nicely paying road train load came together, even when one customer cancelled another popped up straight away. I took my time and toddled over to Victoria, arrived at the weekend, unloaded Sunday/Monday and here I am, masked up in the truckstop, after a big vegie breakfast, waiting for Homer to call me back with my first pickup.

I finished listening to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898) – from Proj. Gutenberg with one very pleasant reader – I’m sure it’s a standard in American Lit classes but I had no expectations and boy, the ending comes as a shock.

Then a standard US murder mystery thriller, and a short, very well written memoir by [I’ll look this name up when I get back in the truck, Annie Ernaux] a French woman writing about her mother’s descent into Alzheimers. The most interesting bit for me was her writing about writing.

Now I’m in the middle of Jasper Fffforde’s Shades of Grey, an amusing take on steampunk SF. The young male protagonist is surrounded by marriage prospects and what I’ve been thinking about most – goes off to load…

that’s one trailer done. Two to go.

… is the sort of girl or woman I find attractive in books (and in life, as it happens). It’s nearly always the bright, annoying one on the edge of the crowd at school, and the lead guy’s friend, not girlfriend – Jamie Lee Curtis and not Elle Macpherson, though the one that really springs to mind is Roseanne’s second daughter. The reason’s obvious when you think about it, who is more likely to write books, the outsider or the prom queen? So I’m pretty sure the permanently angry working class (‘grey’) girl who is seemingly trying to kill the hero will be the one he ends up with.

Ok, I’ve got another trailer to load. More anon.

In Quarantine, Again

Journal: 052

Nyabing S

Yes, I’m back in quarantine. The Covid-19 blow-up in Victoria has caught up with me. No, I’m not ill, but the understandable response of the other states has been to allow truck drivers from Victoria to drive and unload etc., but to otherwise be isolated.

Here are some figures, those for Indiana, USA and Birmingham, UK are for our friends Melanie (GTL) and Liz (Adventures in Reading etc..)

Victoria (pop. 6.5m)       New cases/deaths: 273/1   Total: 3,799/24 (source)
Rest of Aust. (pop. 19m)   New cases/deaths: 6/0    Total: 6,000/84
Indiana (pop. 6.7m)         New cases/deaths: 793/8  Total: 51,079/2,563 (source)
Birmingham (pop. 4.3m) New cases/deaths: ?/4     Total:  ?/3,145 (source)

Of course the situations in USA and UK are an ongoing, unmitigated disaster, as they also seem to be in Brazil, India and sub-Saharan Africa, though the Australian media don’t pay them much attention. I’ve commented before that we are living in an age that confirms the prescience of Science Fiction. This trip I listened to Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos (1985) about the future of the human race after a bug wipes out everyone except some castaways on a Galapagos island.

Science fact rather than science fiction. No-one seems to remember David Suzuki any more. Remember he said 30 years ago that it was simple mathematics that with the population of the world doubling every few decades, from 1 bil. to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16, we would very quickly get to a level the planet was unable to support. Well, now we are there. Yes, we can still theoretically grow enough food, but population densities and mobility are now such that the spread of new viruses is becoming uncontainable. I thought I might be dead before the inevitable Malthusian implosion, but seems not.

It would have been interesting if the virus had come in a non-election year, because I think that the forces of reason, such as they are in the US, may have overthrown the president and attempted to contain the spread. But of course the forces of reason may in turn have been overthrown by the forces of naked capitalism, as indeed they have.

What I really meant to write, before I started running around crying ‘the end of the world is nigh’ (I have a white beard, I really should let it flow) is that 8 or 9 days ago, after a couple of weeks home and getting some work done on the truck, a customer popped up with a B Double load to Victoria, involving a detour to a farm down south which is my excuse for the photo above (it’s a Fargo, from the 1950s, and still a goer).

My delivery was to Leongatha in fertile, hilly Gippsland east of Melbourne where – speaking of ‘home’, as my last Journal did – we lived for five years in the 1950s, out past the milk factory which I used to see (and smell) across the paddocks from our little row of housing commission weatherboards down a gravel lane, and now surrounded by light industry. The paddocks so shockingly green after the mallee and desert country I’m used to.

My mate Homer who has loaded me out every trip for 15 months now since Dragan left me stranded in Melbourne on my first trip with my own trailers, was ready for me and I was in Melbourne for not much more than 24 hours before I was on my way home again. I was expecting trouble at the SA border (Yamba, near Renmark) and had been keeping a log of my contacts in Victoria, as required. That was ok but they also needed me to log onto SAPol and generate an entry number. Tedious at 10 o’clock at night, but soon done.

Twenty four hours later I was at the WA border, which had had the most formal entry requirements right from the beginning. An apologetic policeman told me that the rules had changed even as he was coming onto this shift and that as I was coming from Victoria he was obliged to put me under conditional quarantine. I, and he, signed some papers and then he requested that I photograph them as he had no copies.

WA border quarantine doc 4

I was to travel straight home by the most direct route, and there I must stay for 14 days unless “conducting authorised business as a specialist within your scope of work.” Apparently, I am permitted to leave if the house catches fire, but I must stay nearby and return as soon as possible. It was about 2 deg C in the middle of the night in mid winter on the cliffs above the Southern Ocean, though briefly not raining, as the poor bugger read all this out to me.

Now it’s Sunday, I’m home. Milly came round yesterday afternoon before I arrived and stocked me up with much better provisions than I would buy myself, to make up for the fact I guess, that if I continue running to Victoria it might be some months before I can go round to her place for dinner, let alone take her out.

This afternoon I will catch up on the Indigenous Lit Week posts I have missed (most of them), start writing up one of my own (Tues or Weds I hope, Lisa), catch up with the rest of you, do my EOFY bookwork (just joking, though I’d better do my end of quarter GST), tomorrow I will unload and Friday, I hope, I will be on my way again.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Galapagos (1985) – SF
David Quammen (M, USA), The Soul of Viktor Tronko (1987)
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), The Broken Shore (2005) – Crime
Chevy Stevens (F, Can), That Night (2014) – Crime
JD Robb (F, USA), Kindred in Death (2009) – SF/Crime
Henry James (M, USA), The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Horror

Currently reading

Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown
Anita Heiss (F, Aust/NSW), Not Meeting Mr Right
Sally Rooney (F, Ire), Normal People
Elizabeth Gaskell (F, Eng), Cranford
Anita Heiss ed. (F, Aust/NSW), Growing up Aboriginal in Australia
Meredith Lake (F, Aust/NSW), The Bible in Australia. Don’t Ask!

Home is where the heart is

Journal: 051

Sunset country

Sunday. Here I am home, so no excuses for not keeping up with your posts, for a week or so anyway. I actually got to the outskirts of Perth last night, but it takes a few hours to run two trailers down to the yard, go back, get the other one, get the ute going, unpack my gear from the truck, and my body seems to prefer Victorian time to WA time, which just makes it all another two hours later, and I was already looking at midnight, so I pulled over, slept one more night in the truck and did it all this morning then wandered over to Milly’s, too late for pancakes but there’s always toast.

She of course wanted to go shopping, so I went home and got cleaned up. We both need new stovetops, mine’s not working at all, Lou making do with the oven and an electric frypan. I think we found what I want. I did the regulation traipsing while she looked at stuff she might want, then diverted her to a local Greek for an excellent lunch – saganaki, honey, walnuts how do I moan in text – (we did eat other stuff as well) and a bottle of white. I’m not properly home till I have that first bottle. I was feeling so mellow I drove half an hour to a native garden centre and helped her spend a couple of hundred hard-earned.

That’s boring I know. Stuff you do all the time. Well all the time there’s not a deadly virus raging through your community. But I spend days and weeks on my own (willingly!), on zero blood alcohol, and boring days doing stuff with Millie, the kids, the grandkids is what I look forward to. And sitting at the computer writing, reading. It might take me a day to talk myself out and after that I’m back to solitary stuff.

The other side of ‘home’ is that this trip, for the first time, I road trained through home territory, Victoria, where I grew up, the last mainland state to hold out. Going over, I dipped a toe in the water and crossed the northern tip, to Mildura, but coming back I went the whole hog, assembled the road train at Charlton north of Bendigo (map), ran straight up the highway through Berriwillock and Sea Lake where mum went to school, and her parents before her, and a cousin still farms, then Ouyen, Underbool, Murrayville, all tiny farming towns where a brother was born, dad taught, I went to school, Sunset country, Mallee country. Home.

My uncle Les, mum’s youngest brother (and father of the cousin who still farms there) ran trucks from the family farm between Berriwillock and Sea Lake, bought his first when he was 20 and I was 16, set me on the path I still follow. He married a year or so later, telling me that if I washed his stock crate I could come to the wedding. I did but Grandma vetoed me. If I came, all the cousins would have to come and there were too many. I’d been at my other uncle’s wedding a few years earlier aged 10 maybe, one of only four or five weddings I’ve been to in my whole life, though for my youngest aunty’s I was stuck in the car with my brothers, outside the church hall, fed sausage rolls through the car window by the ladies of the church auxiliary.

les's truck aaco

Les started off carting sheep. My first job as an owner driver was carting cattle. I ran into him a few times at Newmarket, the Melbourne saleyards across the road from Flemington, posh terrace housing now. I remember telling him one time I’d broken down and he was too busy to stop and help. He took over the family farm and we loss contact except at big family get-togethers but in later years I think his older daughter was happy to take over the tractor work and he ran a few trucks, trading and carting grain. It’s a while now since he died in an accident, but I think of him each time I run up that way, he could have hooked up a couple of trailers behind his biggest Mack and road trained right out the farm gate, and I’m sure he would have.

I should think of dad, too, though he was a very reluctant truck driver. Either the summer before he married mum, or the summer after, Granddad made him get his truck licence so he could take the old ex-army International 7 tonner, rocking and groaning with ten ton of wheat over the dirt roads to the Boigbeat silo, a few miles up the line from Berriwillock where coincidentally I took the ‘sunset’ photo above.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Loren Estleman (F, USA), The Sundown Speech (2016) – Crime
Paolo Bacigalupi (M, USA), Pump Six and other stories (2008) – SF
Erica Wright (F, USA), The Granite Moth (2015) – Crime
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), Miss Althea Darcy (2004) – Romance
Dan Simmons (M, USA), Endymion (1996) – SF
Dave Barry (M, USA), Tricky Business (2002) – Crime
Kirstin Chen (F, Sing/USA), Soy Sauce for Beginners (2013)
Will Wiles (M, Eng), Care of Wooden Floors (2012)
Lee Child (M, Eng), The Midnight Line (2017) – Crime

Currently reading

Patrick White, The Cockatoos
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown
Christine Merrill, Regency Liasons. Milly’s working a few days a week at a Red Cross shop and brought this home so of course I started it while she was cooking tea and will finish it before I do anything else. Like choose a book for ANZLL’s Indigenous Literature Week (July 5-12, 2020) for instance.


“Home is where the heart is”. Proverb. Origin uncertain.

Setting Out

Journal: 050

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I’m setting out on this post with no clear idea of where it will end up. It’s Sunday 6.46 am and in a few hours I am setting out on another trip to Melbourne (from Perth WA if you’re new here). Yesterday I was planning to go half empty but a truck came up on Loadshift, I tendered my usual price, within 15 minutes I had the job, within 3 hours the truck was loaded and back in the yard (my mate’s back paddock).

Today, I’ll run that trailer ‘up the hill’ to the assembly area on the highway south, go back for the other two, and head down to Esperance, 800 km away on the south coast, to load scrap steel. Then it’s off across the Nullarbor, to the northern outskirts of Adelaide, then for the first time as a road train in my old home state, across the north west corner of Victoria and down the river, on the NSW side, to Echuca (map). Break up, run one trailer into Melbourne, then the other two to Wodonga where the steel is remade in an electric arc furnace. Which should put me empty in Melbourne Friday too late to load out.

Sue (WG), who is flat out getting her elderly parents settled in new nursing accommodation (I think at 90 and 100 it’s safe to say elderly), says I should cherish my mother while I have her, so I guess it’s out to mum’s for the weekend.

If you follow Whispering Gums, and doesn’t everyone, you’ll see she’s running a series called Bill Curates, which is me choosing representative posts from her back catalogue – I’ve made my way so far from May to June 2009 – picking out items to repost. Lots of fun for very little effort. A good way, as Karen/Booker Talk suggested in her excellent A to Z of Blogging, of revisiting material not seen by most of her followers, and a good way too of keeping Whispering Gums ticking over while Sue is so busy.

I have to write Journals because I read so little, even when I have “days off”, which mostly involves moving trucks and trailers from one spot to another to get them repaired or serviced or new tyres, or a paint job and new guards (mudguards) as with the trailer immediately behind my ute in the picture above, white and light blue is going to be my new colour scheme, not to mention keeping my bookwork up to date, though none of that explains why I read only a few pages in the evening, catch up on the news, solve a killer sudoku and am fast asleep by 10pm.

Remember, four months ago, when ‘the news’ was that the Australian government was doing nothing about climate change, then bushfires across half the continent made even the Liberal Party aware that climate change was here now, and just when we thought something might happen Covid-19 wiped everything else off the front pages and the Morrison (and Trump) governments took the opportunity to begin sabotaging every remaining climate initiative they could think of, and now the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has wiped Covid-19 off the front pages, except for the relatives of 110,000 people killed by Trump’s willful negligence, but of course it couldn’t happen here. Except it does.

“there’s no need to import things happening in other countries here to Australia. I mean, Australia is a fair country … I mean, Australia is not the United States.” [Prime Minister Morrison]

African Americans make up 12% of the adult population, but 33% of the US prison population; in Australia the ratio for Indigenous people is 3% of the population and 29% of the prisoners. [Greg Jericho, Guardian Australia, 7 June 2020]

Do the maths. Black Australians are FOUR times more likely to be jailed than Black Americans and TEN times more likely to be jailed than white Australians.

Since 1991 and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 432 Indigenous people in prison or in the hands of police have died and not one person has been convicted of any offence in connection with those deaths.

That is the Australia we live in, whether we set out to achieve it or not, an Australia founded on the murder of its original inhabitants, as I have attempted to document, and in which those murders continue today, unpunished.

 

Remember: Indigenous Literature Week (July 5-12, 2020) on ANZLitlovers

 

Recent audiobooks 

Stephanie Laurens (F, Aus), Four in Hand (1993) – Romance
as far as I can tell, Laurens has lived in England for a long time, but she does have some reviews on the Australian Women Writers Challenge database. I should contribute another.
Janet Evanovich (F, USA), Seven Up (2001) – Crime
Camilla Lackberg (F, Swe), The Lost Boy (2013) – Crime
Anne McCaffery (F, USA), Damia (1992) – SF
Susan Choi (F, USA), The Foreign Student (1998)
Blake Crouch (M, USA), Good Behaviour (2016) – DNF
Belinda Alexandra (F, Aus), Silver Wattle (2007) – DNF

Currently reading

Patrick White, The Cockatoos
Majorie Barnard, Miles Franklin
Flannery O’Connor, Complete Stories
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (I just bought it, I hope I start reading it)