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Nick Earls, NoHo (#BookReview)

May 13, 2018

Nick Earls, NoHoNick Earls is a Queensland-based writer known mostly for humorous fiction about contemporary life. While I’d heard of him, I hadn’t read any of his work when I attended a session involving him at the 2016 Canberra Writers Festival. The session was titled “Modern Masculinity” (my report). Earls was there because of the recent publication of his Wisdom Tree series of five novellas, of which NoHo is the fifth. I chose to buy it because of my familiarity with its setting, Los Angeles.

The Wisdom Tree books are beautifully designed (by Sandy Cull), and just lovely to hold. For that reason alone, I’m glad I finally decided to pick NoHo off the TBR pile and introduce myself to this writer. The books are apparently “subtly linked”, but I don’t think that means you need to read them all, or read them in any order. I certainly haven’t, and I enjoyed NoHo regardless.

The five books in the series are titled by the name of a place: 1. Gotham, 2. Venice, 3. Vancouver, 4. Juneau, and this one, 5. NoHo. NoHo refers to North Hollywood where 11-year-old Charlie is temporarily living with his mother and 12-year-old sister Cassidy who is seeking her break into the movie business. It’s not this Australian family’s first stay in Los Angeles, so Charlie knows the routine. As Cassidy and her mother do the rounds of agents and auditions, Charlie is left to himself. He chases wifi at audition venues. He goes “dumpster diving” for bottles and cans he can cash in at a recycling centre. And, in the last part of the story, he’s left at an art gallery to work on a school assignment that has been posted on the Distance Ed Blackboard site. Dropped off at 1.15pm, he is still there at gallery closing at 6pm because his sister has a “call-back” – and her needs come first. That’s the basic set up. Oh, and there is a father, but he is back in Australia, due to join the family at Christmas.

The story is told in the first person voice of Charlie. At the Canberra Writers Festival session I attended, Earls said that he used an 11 to 12-year-old boy as a protagonist because this is the age of starting to push boundaries, of wanting to be successfully independent but also being a little fearful. He wanted, he said, NoHo’s narrator to be naive about what he was seeing. That’s pretty much what he’s achieved: Charlie is starting to push boundaries – willing to be independent to a degree – but is not so confident that he isn’t a little anxious when his mum leaves him too long at the gallery. He’s lucky that a down-to-earth warm-hearted security guard, Wanda – “a tough woman who has had difficult times, I can tell” – stays with him.

Charlie isn’t, however, completely naive. He’s an intelligent boy who has some insight into the treadmill his mother and sister are on. He comments on the sorts of dream-and goal-focused mantras that his sister follows:

I’ve seen sports clothes that say, “Never, never, never give up,” but is that right? Never? Triple never? What if your dream is to win a marathon and your body with triple-never do that? It’ll finish, if you work at it, but it’ll never cross the line first and could fall apart trying. What if your dream is to be a movie star before you’re old, and it’s a million other people’s dreams as well? More than a million, actually. And some of them, lots of them, have perfect teeth and better luck than you.

Good questions, Charlie.

The second part of the novella involves Charlie choosing an art work for his art assignment. He chooses an anthropomorphic sculpture titled Family #5, which features three creatures made primarily from found objects. There’s irony or, at least, poignancy, in Charlie’s descriptions of the work:

She could have put three creatures in a row, ignoring each other, but these ones aren’t. They’re relating to each other in a way that says family. We can’t help but see it that way. It’s an instinct. So, it makes you connect with them more … It’s a good family. How a family should be, looking out for each other.

[and]

The child creature has no idea how good life is in this moment before trouble comes, however long the moment might be. It’s the care the parent creatures are showing that keeps you looking.

There’s also a lovely humorous little scene in the art gallery between the guard, Charlie, and a couple of other gallery visitors, that provides a wry little comment on art, what it is and what it means.

Anyhow, NoHo is an engaging, lightly told but not light story about family relationships. Charlie is generous, tolerant even, about his lot. He doesn’t rail about the attention his sister garners (and expects) again and again. It’s not an abusive or consciously neglectful family. The mother and sister don’t exactly ignore Charlie, nor are they intentionally cruel to him. It’s just that Cassidy is the centre of the mother’s energy and Charlie is expected to understand this. And this is, perhaps, where the naive narrator comes in. We see the family dynamics and recognise the potential pitfalls. Life is seemingly good now but trouble is very likely around the corner. Will the family unit hold?

I thoroughly enjoyed NoHo, partly for Earls’ evocation of the place – it made me laugh at times – but mainly for its delightful narrator and his insights into what makes a family. I wish him well!

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has reviewed 1. Gotham and 2. Venice.

Nick Earls
NoHo
(Wisdom Tree 5)
Carlton South: Inkerman & Blunt, 2015
142pp.
ISBN: 9780992498573

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2018 4:01 pm

    I’ve read two in this series: I liked the first one, and wasn’t quite so keen on the second. But they are interesting glimpses into the preoccupations of middle class people…

    • May 13, 2018 9:09 pm

      Thanks Lisa. I’d completely forgotten that, and have now linked them. I wouldn’t mind reading more. It seems like a few of them about about children not getting their parent’s attention. Because mine was about a pre-teen boy and all the other main characters were female, I didn’t see this one as exploring masculinity as much as I suspect the others do.

      • May 13, 2018 9:30 pm

        Thanks for the link, Sue:)

        • May 13, 2018 9:35 pm

          A pleasure, particularly in this case as there are 5 novellas in the series and I only did one. Nice to be also to give people more about the series.

        • May 13, 2018 9:43 pm

          Yes… I like it when you review something that I find irresistible and I just want to read the book too (and eventually review it) but I also like it when we review books that complement each other, as when there’s a shortlist and I’ve read some and you’ve read the others and between us people can read reviews of the whole shortlist:)

        • May 13, 2018 9:45 pm

          Yes, exactly Lisa …

  2. May 14, 2018 9:56 am

    I see Nick Earl books on shelves all the time but have never bought or read any. I always think I will when I see them. They look really inviting. I really need to remedy this. This book sounds like one I would really like. But I am determined to keep reading from my own shelves but might put the name on my library wishlist.

    • May 14, 2018 10:30 am

      Sounds like a good compromise Pam! This was a TBR read for me! Any book that’s been on my shelves for 12 months I define as TBR. Most years I manage, oh, around 4 or so! That’s horrendous.

      Anyhow, do consider reading this – or some of the others. They make a good introduction, though I think they are less humorous than many of his books.

  3. May 15, 2018 4:04 am

    This sounds super. The characters sound interesting and well crafted. I like the fact that Charlie’s family is flawed but not abusive. This is so often the way that life is.

    • May 15, 2018 8:20 am

      Yes, exactly, Brian … and that probably makes you think more, whereas an abusive family would enable you to distance yourself and not engage so easily with the issues.

  4. May 15, 2018 6:28 am

    This sounds charming. Do you think you will read any of the other books in the series now that you’ve broken the ice?

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