Recently I spoke at a book launch for Bruce Russsell's latest novel. Here is the spoken in text.
When I was a boy, the surf lifesavers down at Cottesloe and North Cottesloe were big, brutal, and packed with fleshy muscle.
I wasn’t one of them. I belonged to the other mob, the surfers, we were generally smaller, weedier and often chastised, although, to be fair, we did have muscle, but that stringy sort.
Whenever we had a party we would drink too much and do stupid things and hurt ourselves.
Whenever the surf lifesavers had a party they’d drink too much and do stupid things too but if they hurt anyone, it was probably us.
It wasn’t fair. Nothing is, or ever was, or ever will be but none of that has anything to do with Bruce Russell’s book, Reunion.
Or does it?
This is not just a reunion story, this twists and turns into a mystery with more than one stream and like all good novels about crime and revenge it doesn’t necessarily end happily.
I loved it that in Reunion all the bad guys are classic Aussie good guys, Aussie heros, lifesavers and surf club members.
Who would have thought? Bruce Russell thought, and got to it, and did it.
When I was a boy the only surf club blokes I ever saw were those who thought they were the hottest shits in town.
You’d go to the beach and they would strut around in their Speedos, sticking their crutches out, puffing their chests and flexing their biceps.
Many of them, the older ones in particular, were already set in their lives – lawyers, doctors, plumbers, and well on their way to making a million, or two.
My lot, the surfers, doomed, club-less, bedraggled, deviant. We kept our boards behind the local petrol station. We rode primitive skateboards when the ocean was flat and sometimes we drank warm beer in the beachside change-rooms. But we were harmless. We didn‘t hurt anyone. We were good for the environment.
This book turns the tables and reveals surf club blokes for who they really are – mean spirited, controlling, sexist, racist, money grabbing, vindictive, revengeful, greedy bastards.
Some samples, if I may:
Jimmy thought about surf club days: weekend carnivals, the nights of training in Gunnamatta Bay, the pub crawls, the drunken midnight escapes down the track to Tagary. It had been a great way to grow up. His father disapproved and his mother went crazy trying to keep him at home. Like most young men, he thrived on the disapproval.
At high school someone started singing ‘Ahab, the Arab’ in the change room after gym. There followed a short and bloody scuffle, with Jimmy the victor. In the surf club, all the prejudice seemed to flow towards Nigger, an Aboriginal boy who was as black as Namatjira.
Nobody seemed to notice Jimmy’s glossy hair and brown skin, or the angle of his nose. They called him Turk for a while, but the origin of the name was lost in time. Mostly, he was Jimmy Leathem whose parents had provided him with everything he needed to make it in white Australia.
All right, I take your point, it’s not a good example of the point I was trying to make. I read the passage because I liked reading it.The thing is, the best passages to make the point I want to make give away too much of the point of the book, all tied up in it’s complex plot.
Readers of all genders, Reunion is a rollicking read that took me no time at all to get through because I love powerful women and a gritty crime tale in which all the good guys can be bad and some of the bad guys can be good and where no-one is that good.
And most of the grit in this book involves a strong woman, Bette.
Here she is in action:
At the table, Nathan had upended her handbag and was holding her digital recorder aloft.
“Told you,” he said to his father. “Never trust a woman.”
With that he dropped the machine on the floor and stomped on it. Bette stalked over, grabbed her handbag and replaced the contents.
Jeff Lundquist was holding both hands up to his chest, palms facing like an innocent bystander. She rounded on both of them, her eyes blazing.
“Why don’t you fuck off back to the wadi, Nathan! And you, you pathetic old prick, no wonder you’ve ended up here in this sad little box. Jimmy Leathem was a better man than you’ll ever be!”
Oh yeah, reminds me of my first wife the day she walked out.
There are other reasons why I enjoyed this book. First, it mentions my current home, Albany. Then there is Saleem, an Afghan boy, another of the central characters. Not only is Saleem a decent human being he is one of the few to survive this complex tale of crime and retribution with his morality in tack. In this time of refugee demonising, it is refreshing to read a tale in which the demons reside within us and not out there among them, the others, the unknowns, the foreigners.
Now, I’m not sure you know, but I have written a tale or two myself and one of my earlier works has often been claimed as the kind of book that it isn’t and, in order to prove the point that it wasn’t, I ran a word count.
I have done the same with Reunion.
But first, here’s an example of what I mean:
Wank – 8
Wanker – 4
Wanking – 15
Christ – 13
Jesus – 44
Church – 37
Salt – 36
Love – 36
Laugh – 60
So, rather, as some have claimed, that it is a book about a boy obsessed with masturbation, it would seem, on the evidence, that it is more a story about Jesus, church and a laugh filled love of salt.
My old mate, Roy Piggott, who runs the visitors’ centre in Manjimup sent me this email:
In my word count I found Jack mentioned 372 times, so I actually thought it was a story about car maintenance.
Oh, by the way, I ran a count of THEs in both books: Reunion - 4248; Boy on a Wire – 2694. There you have it, no doubt about it, Reunion is THE book.
Lifesavers – 7
Sex – 5
Hate – 5
Potatoes – 1
Refugees – 3
Albany – 3
Drowned – 6
Afghanistan – 4
Crime - 6
Fish – 9
Love – 20
Help – 34
Bed – 46
Reunion – 52
There you go, rather, as at least one reader has suggested, than a book about mean spirited surf lifesavers, it is more a tale about love and help to bed for a reunion.
Bruce, thank you for asking me to talk tonight. It has been a pleasure and an honour.
Now, the rest of you, readers, buy it up, get Bruce to sign it and tomorrow morning let’s all meet for breakfast down at Cottesloe SLC and heckle the older surf lifesavers as they creak and grown their way down to the water’s edge.