Six degrees of separation, FROM Revolutionary Road TO Fateless

Richard Yates, Revolutionary RoadSix Degrees of Separation is a monthly “meme” hosted by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). Each month, she nominates a book, and then those who choose to play create a chain of six books, linking one from the other as the spirit moves. Now, I hadn’t planned to play this time because I haven’t read Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road (nor did I even see the movie), but I need to make an embarrassing confession. I’ve cheated on the last two “memes”. I’ve only done SIX books, not SIX degrees of separation from the chosen book making SEVEN. Where was my brain? Well, wherever it was, I have it back now, so have decided to prove it by playing this time after all …

Lesley Lebkowicz, The Petrov PoemsYates’ Revolutionary Road is set in suburban America in the 1950s. Wikipedia quotes Yates saying he intended the book to be an “indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs—a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price”. It was much like this in Australia too – and it’s understandable given people’s very real memories of World War II – but not everyone dreamed these suburban dreams. There were, for example, the Communists who had a different vision of how life should be. Lesley Lebkovicz’s verse novel The Petrov poems (my review) tells the story of a very different couple to Yates’. They were Soviet intelligence agents posted in Australia, and their lives derailed badly as their spying was uncovered.

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ruby MoonlightThere are many places I could go from here, but I’m keen to encourage more people to try verse novels, so I’m going to link by form and choose Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Ruby Moonlight (my review). Like Lebkowicz’s novel, Ruby Moonlight is historical fiction, but set in a very different world. Indigenous author Eckermann tells the story of early contact between indigenous people and white settlers in remote South Australia around 1880. It’s a beautiful (and accessible) read, one that is both uncompromising in identifying the wrongs that have been done, and yet also open to seeing pain and loneliness among the settlers. I do admire such generosity.

Ellen van Neerven, Heat and light, book coverSomething else I’m keen to encourage is for us (myself included) to read more books by indigenous writers. I’ve read a few here over the years, but the one I’m going to choose is Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and light (my review). This is one of those books which defies definition in terms of its form, but I’m not going to engage in that now. What I want to draw from here is its middle section, “Water”, which is an edgy dystopian story set in the near future. It manages to addresses contemporary political issues regarding environmental degradation and indigenous ownership through a clever story about “plant-people”.

RawsonWrongTurnTransitAnother edgy dystopian book set in the near future is Jane Rawson’s gorgeously titled, A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists (my review). Actually it shifts a bit between a sort-of imaginary 1997 San Francisco and a 2030 Melbourne, and belongs to that new genre, cli-fi, though it crosses other genres too, including time-travel. It’s a rather mind-bending (as well as genre-bending) read, because Rawson has one of those quick-witted imaginations that can address something very serious while maintaining a playful edge. And I do like playful writers, so next I’m going to choose …

Howard Jacobson's The Finkler questionA non-Australian book, to give all my non-Australian readers a bit of a fighting chance with this list. How about Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler question (my review)? I am a bit of a sucker for Jewish humour, and this book, as my family will tell you, really tickled my funny bone. I mean, whoever heard of a Gentile wanting to be a Jew. (Well, yes, we all have I’m sure, but I think you know what I mean …) The book is full of wordplays and jokes, all the while addressing personal concerns like identity, love and loss alongside more political ones to do with issues like Zionism and, more broadly, what it means to be Jewish.

kerteszfatelessNow, where can that lead me to for my all important SEVENTH book? Well, I think at this point, I might turn serious, not that playful writers like Rawson and Jacobson aren’t serious, because they are, but having raised the Jewish question (ha!) I think I should continue with it. I have read and reviewed some excellent memoirs by Jewish writers, but I think I’m going to go for the jugular and choose Imre Kertesz’s Fateless (or Fatelessnes, depending on your translation) (my review). I say “jugular” because this is one of those books that needs a bit of nutting out; it engages with some fundamental ideas about the human condition, about what is fate, what is freedom.

And so, we have moved from an American couple in the 1950s, through Australia past and future, taking a little side trip back to America, before moving on to contemporary England and ending up in Hungary during World War 2. If my first 6-degrees meme had a certain circularity, this one seems to be rather more linear.

Where would Revolutionary Road take you – your first step at least?

32 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation, FROM Revolutionary Road TO Fateless

    • Thanks Debbie, I just have fun … that’s a hard one. Perhaps The Petrov poems because it’s probably more accessible to those not versed in Australian indigenous history and culture. (Another good one I’ve reviewed on my blog is Geoff Page’s The scarring. A powerful story.)

  1. Haha the first thing that came to mind was The Stepford Wives but I know the 50’s wasn’t quite that bad. I remember them. At least not for kids. I don’t think I could keep up with the six degrees of separation though I have read enough about it. I have loved Jewish books or stories about Jewishness since I was a child. No idea why. I read the Chaim Potok books starting with The Chosen and loved them. Want to read them again. My name is Asher Lev never left me. Then Lily Brett’s stories about New York City (forgot the name just now) had a lot of humour. I will watch on with bated breath. 🙂

    • Thanks Pam … I love that I’m not the only non-Jew who has long been attracted to Jewish stories and humour. I don’t quite know why except that I think their ability to be self-deprecating matches Australian humour a bit – but that wouldn’t necessarily explain you would it.

  2. Oh! Wonderful to hear Fateless mentioned. A book to turn your mind inside out. Anne Michaels, Primo Levi and WG Sebald are in my list of great Jewish writing. Any list of great writing. Which isn’t what your post was about but I want to celebrate them all.

    • It certainly is that Lesley I agree. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read Primo Levi yet, nor Anne Michaels of whom I’ve also heard good things, but I have read Sebald and so can certainly agree with you there. I’m happy for you to celebrate them – commenters don’t have to follow the rules I had to in my post!

  3. Another great chain! I have to admit that I never noticed that you “only” linked 5 books (and it doesn’t really matter…) My initial thought was to make the first link based on the movie adaption because I haven’t read the book either, but I have used the film adaption to include Revolutionary Road in previous chains, so instead I ended up going with the fact that I haven’t read it yet in spite of frequently borrowing it from the library.

  4. I haven’t done mine yet, I’ve been ‘off-air’ for 36 hours with a most peculiar ailment: basically I slept for 36 hours! No symptoms except for a mild headache, no apparent cause. Very odd, and now I’m hastening to get back in synch with the rest of the world!

  5. This was not an easy task and I failed. Revolutionary Road took me not to a book but to a painting of John Brack’s; Collins Street. Then to the poem, Clancy of the Overflow,. by A B Paterson. I then thought of slavery and freedom, and it reminded me of the first indigenous author I read: Sally Morgan’s book My Place. Of course, the next book was Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington. I finished up with one book that always stays in my mind even though its authenticity has been questioned is Bruce Chatwin’s, The Songlines.

  6. I often find I haven’t read the starting book, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I have read A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (which I enjoyed) and Heat and Light is on my to-read pile. I came across Ellen van Neerven’s work after hearing her speak at the Perth Writers Festival a couple of years ago.

    • Me too, Melinda. I initially felt I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t read the book but realise now that that’s not necessary at all, though generally I’d prefer then to point to books I have read though I could see the occasion where the link could be to another unread book.

  7. Your links are far more cerebral than mine… here’s me, just getting Hollywood actors mixed up 😀

    I read Heat and Light as part of the Stella Prize book group last year and found it….odd. There was one story I really liked (about the girls running away) but the one you mentioned, Water, I didn’t like at the time at all. The odd thing is that I often think about that story and how weird it was. So now I figure that although I may not have liked it much, it left an impression, and there’s something to be said for that.

    • Haha, Kate, I did laugh so much at that actor thing – so easily done.

      I like your point about Heat and Light. It’s interesting that sometimes it’s not the books you loved most at the time you read them that stay with you later. Sometimes they are of course, but not always.

  8. Like you, Sue, I hadn’t read the starter (yet) but it didn’t stop me from going all round the world this month.

    I’m delighted to see Van Neervan’s book getting some more love. Water is certainly one of those unforgettable stories.

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