Book Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Book Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks is not a book for the faint hearted. It is a book worth reading. Set in an easy-to-believe alternative and highly conservative America, Red Clocks explores the complex issues of motherhood as personal and political.

Seen from the perspective of four women, all coping with different facets of women’s maternal lives, Red Clock delves into this deeply personal aspect of womanhood. Zumas doesn’t balk from the gritty, visceral details of both the emotional and physical experience of maternity. Her explicit, and at time confronting, portrayal the processes of pregnancy and the emotional toll of motherhood as a social construct gives voice to the experiences of women from many angles.

Zumas challenges motherhood as a natural or desirable outcome for women, while empathetically representing women who for a multitude of reasons are unable to become biological mothers themselves.

Overlaid with these deeply personal narratives of mothering, is the socio-political aspect of women’s bodies and futures as being determined by, and at the whim of, social policy. She raises difficult questions about autonomy, freedom and ideology that run frighteningly close to current political contexts.

This is a hard read, but Zumas give us rounded, sympathetic characters that makes us evaluate where we stand on maternity as a personal experience and as a social and political issue.

Why you must watch Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette”

Why you must watch Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette”

This blog is evolving, as these things do. When I started it a little while ago I wasn’t really sure how it was going to look or what it was I actually had to say. I’m a writer with strong opinions about how the world should and shouldn’t be. Despite my passion I have a sense a times that I’m floundering but as I write each week I am beginning to recognise an emerging sense of purpose.

I not only want to write stories but I want to find them, share them in order re-shape how we think about what stories are, specifically about women. I want to shift the conversation around women’s lives and experiences to reflect the diversity of women in the world. This is a selfish goal because I no longer want to hear the same story. I don’t want my children (daughter or son) to have a fixed idea of what their future, or their self-image should look like. I am not interested in generating pleasing narratives of passive, beautiful and highly sexualised (by this I mean for the pleasure the male gaze) representations of women.

Instead, I’m hoping to build a new vision through celebrating the amazing work of those who break these moulds.

If you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special “Nanette” yet, you should. It is a masterpiece. It is something that all people should watch, not just women, or gay women, or comedians, or artists; everyone.

Why?

Gadsby states part-way through her show that she is very good at her job. She understands tension. She understands how to make the audience feel, and she does. The first half to two-thirds of this stage show works within, if not at the edge, of our expectations of a comedy show. Gadsby is funny, insightful while making the kind of quips that we have come to expect. This is interrupted by brief insights into where the show is going. For example, she states that she can’t do comedy anymore because she refuses to be self-depreciating. At this the audience erupts. This is something we can all get behind. Then she lifts the mood, allowing us to settle back into our comfort zone. This is how the show develops, with Gadsby pressing a raw emotion, then drawing us back.

Yet as each cycle of story and comic relief spins, Gadsby draws us further out from our complacency. The things she says aren’t funny. Not because Gadsby isn’t funny, but because she forces us to see them for what they are. I don’t want to give away what she says because it is, in my opinion, vitally important that we, as her audience, allow her to draw us through her story. It is not my story to tell, but it is a story that I needed to hear. I needed to squirm in my white, straight, middle-class privilege. I needed to feel uncomfortable with laughing. I needed to care enough to cry (which I did).

Hannah Gadsby says she is done with comedy. I hope she isn’t done with storytelling.

I add “Nanette” to the first strands of a new tapestry in my life.

Book Review: Storyland by Catherine McKinnon

Book Review: Storyland by Catherine McKinnon

Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland is a short story cycle that masterfully weaves together narratives of time and place. While written as a collection of short-stories, Storyland reads like a novel where the land itself is the central character through which we experience change, growth, drama and loss. It is through the changes to the land, from pristine wilderness to ecological disaster that we observe and reflect upon Australia’s past, and its possible future. The characters who inhabit this landscape across the centuries are as fleeting and transient as the birds that flit between and carry us on to the next story, with the land itself bearing the scars of our actions across time.

Storyland begins in 1796 with the story of Will Martin through the lens of white settlement. We follow three men as they journey through the Illawarra region in search of fresh water and settlement opportunities in a story that explores first contact between Indigenous and colonial cultures. The conflicts, racism, violence and discrimination between colonial settlers and Indigneous Australians is a theme that runs throughout Storyland—from the devastating story of Hawker’s ambition in 1822 to Lola’s determination to survive as a female farmer (for me the most moving of the stories) in 1900, to Bel’s child’s perspective of domestic violence in 1996 and finally to Nada’s story that extends as far forward as 2717 where she recounts the environmental catastrophe and social collapse that ends her world as she knows it—Storyland explores the social and cultural divide that founded modern Australia, transforming the personal and the individual into an allegory enacted upon the landscape.

The time-frame of Storyland is vast against the fleeting span of a human-life or Australia’s modern colonial history, but Storyland alludes to a timeless depth and richness of history held in the land that humanity has barely skimmed, and may potentially lose. Each story is linked by the motif of a bird moving between the narratives, as witnesses that are born of the land, but also free to view it from above. The stories are also linked by place, object and shared narrative with oblique references to common histories to create a network wherein the past is always active in the present.

McKinnon’s narrative voice is clear and light as she carefully guides us through an intense exploration of Australia’s shifting identity, at times dark and shameful, at others bold and inspiring. She doesn’t shy away from the violence of our past, nor the capacity for violence as well as love that still shapes us today and into the future. Storyland is deeply moving, engaging and deceptively simple. This is a book that forces introspection, and self-reflection and leaves an important mark on the landscape of Australian literature.

 

Viva la Podcast: “Steal the Stars” Review

Viva la Podcast: “Steal the Stars” Review

When I was a little kid I fell in love with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The iteration that hooked me first was the original radio-play (and is to this day still my favourite version of this classic). It was a revelation to me—the sound effects, the cast—as though I were watching a TV show inside my head. The words floating through the speakers created a visual marvel in my brain, a fantastical universe complete with sound that nothing on TV could emulate. Since then I’ve mourned the loss the radio-play as a form. More recently I have been delighted by the rise of the audiobook and the podcast (having developed a serious addiction to both). Then Steal the Stars snuck up on me.

It’s a performance podcast, and I am hooked. Steal the Stars is a straight-out sci-fi story, complete with aliens and an evil military corporation. If you aren’t a fan of this genre then this might not be the story for you but, sci-fi fan or not, you would be hard-pressed to criticise the impressive production and immersive experience of this podcast. Tor-labs’ excellent production treats you to all the pleasure of the long-form novel, with the added sensory experience of a live performance. Be warned, it is seriously addictive.

The story, by Mac Rogers, is set on a secret, privatised military base which houses an alien spacecraft inside of which is the warm, unresponsive body of “Moss”—the proverbial big-eyed, grey-skinned man from outer space. The base is manned by ex-US military personnel who understand the harsh and indelible safety and fraternisation protocols of their employer, Quill Marine. Told from the perspective of the facilities chief security offer, “Dak” (Dakota Prentiss), we are pulled into the intrigue of the secret base and the mystery of “Moss” and the “harp” that appears to power the space craft. When “Matt Salem” starts working at the facility Dak’s previously unwavering allegiance to Quill Marine is questioned as she begins an illicit relationship (the consequences for which are potentially catastrophic). This story rolls together, thriller, sci-fi, romance and a healthy dose of social commentary into one.

I don’t want to say anything more for risk of spoilers, so let me get back to gushing about how much fun I have had binge-listening to this story. I started this on Tuesday afternoon and finished on Wednesday morning. I would have finished quicker but I had to, you know, live (feed my kids, pick them up from school, talk to them). The acting in this podcast is impeccable and Tor labs have created a universe that is completely believable, from the hollow, echoing sounds in the hanger where Moss is kept, to the creaking of the bed when Dak and Salem are whispering to each other in the night (spoiler), as well as other more horrifying elements of Quill Marine’s operations.

And the ending? Did I pick it? Sort of, almost, not really, which is the sign of good writing. At some point you have to let your reader/listener figure it out at least some of the big finale. If they don’t, if your ending is a complete, out of the blue shock, then you’ve let them down somewhere. You’ve led them up the garden path and deliberately left them lost in a paddock. Writing is a delicate balance between delivering the reader that sense of satisfaction—when they say “Huh! I knew it!”—and carefully misdirecting and obscuring the ending in a way that feels organic but doesn’t confound and anger them. In other words, the twist at the end needs to be twisty, but not random or disconnected from all the work you have made the reader do over the many hours they have invested in your story. Steal the Stars nailed it.

If you aren’t already loving everything the podcast and audiobook world has to offer, all I can say is you are missing out. Whether you’re driving in your car, folding the laundry (groan), cooking, walking, watching your kids at sport, on the train, or buying groceries, podcasts and audiobooks bring stories into previously inaccessible parts of your day. And we all need more stories in our day. I’m excited about productions like Steal the Stars (and am on the hunt for more), and hope this signals a renaissance of radio-plays across all genres.

This podcast had been adapted into a novel of the same name by Nat Cassidy.