Six degrees of separation, FROM Revolutionary Road TO Fateless
Six 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 …
Yates’ 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.
There 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.
Something 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”.
Another 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 …
A 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.
Now, 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?