TEXT review


Reflective and pleasurably familiar

review by Dallas J Baker

Fisher.jpg

Jeremy Fisher
How to Tell Your Father to Drop Dead
Fat Frog Books, Sydney 2013
ISBN 9780959035049
Pb 150pp AUD26.95


Jeremy Fisher’s new collection contains both fiction and short pieces of memoir. How to Tell Your Father to Drop Dead explores masculinity and relationships through the lens of a gay male living in Australia. The pieces range in time frame from before homosexuality was decriminalised to our contemporary, slightly more tolerant, times.

Some of the pieces in How to Tell Your Father to Drop Dead are eye-witness accounts of the Gay Liberation movement in the 1970s. One of the more intimate pieces is an account of Fisher’s relationship with his father, who was by all accounts an interesting character.

The autobiographical pieces are reflective and quiet in tone. Fisher’s writing has a familiar quality to it that makes the work highly approachable. I often felt that I was sitting on a couch listening to a friend tell me stories about his life. That kind of writing is hard to find these days, given the current publishing climate in which action is privileged over reflection, and pace is deemed inadequate if it is anything other than rapid. Even though Fisher’s writing style may be considered by some to be slightly ‘unfashionable’, it offers its own distinct pleasures, as in the paragraph below:

Pup had run away, left home and hopped the train to the city when he was 16, because, despite what the state schools in Western Sydney tried to tell him, he didn’t fit. He wasn’t going to go from voc. ed. to dole queue and a stolen Commodore. He had the smarts to make himself a softer piece of rough trade. (1)

This is the opening paragraph to the book. It immediately conveys that this collection is not another exploration of the Australian heterosexual middle-class, but a look at that part of our society that, for much of Fisher’s life, was brushed under the carpet, even unspeakable – the gay subculture of our cities and towns.

Fisher shows us both those aspects of gay life that connect with universal themes and those that some Australians might find alien. For universal themes, the standout piece is ‘Winter Afternoon’, which recounts the experiences and feelings of a suburban gay man as he cares for his dying partner. On the flipside, some (more conservative) readers will struggle to find any common ground or shared experience with a number of the pieces. For example, one chapter features gay sadomasochism, not exactly the bread and butter of middle-class life.

Readers with an editorial eye will note a number of obvious typographical errors, as well as a few sentences that need refinement. This is disappointing, although not unexpected with a new and small press. There is also a sense, at times, that not all of the pieces fit well together, that perhaps a tighter theme should have been adopted. For example, the collection could have been limited to either fiction or autobiography. The inclusion of both weakens the collection a little. Having said that, this is not a serious problem as most of the pieces are strong in themselves.

Fisher is a long-term academic in writing at the University of New England, and clearly aware of the impact subtle changes to syntax can have on the tone of a text. Grammar savvy readers will note Fisher’s deliberate writerly choices in the excerpt above. Fisher clearly favours a reflective (slightly removed) tone rather than a more direct one. Instead of ‘He wasn’t going from voc. ed. to dole queue…’, Fisher writes ‘He wasn’t going to go from voc. ed. to dole queue…’ This adds another measure of distance that facilitates a more reflective reading experience. Some readers might find that this distance keeps them remote from the story. For me, this distance makes for a more thoughtful encounter with the text.

This reflective distance, ensconced in a conversational tone, is a style not unfamiliar to me from gay literature of the last half of the preceding century. Perhaps this is why How to Tell Your Father to Drop Dead is so accessible. Whatever the reason, Fisher’s latest contribution to gay literature, specifically Australian gay literature, is noteworthy.

 

 

Dallas J Baker is an Adjunct Research Fellow at Griffith University and an academic in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University. Dallas is also a creative writer with work published in a number of journals and anthologies. His current research interests are memory and memoir, scriptwriting, and Creative Writing pedagogy.

 

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TEXT
Vol 18 No 1 April 2014
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
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