Friday, October 4, 2013

Alex Miller's Coal Creek

This is a rather slight story, certainly not one of Miller's best. 

We're introduced to Bobby Blue, a 20 year old country boy who loved his bible reading mother. Is he wise beyond his years or an immature, deluded, pompous, insufferable prick of the first order? Miller has us wondering. 

Bobby's clunky uneducated reasoning is constantly on show, and Miller captures his voice superbly.

It's an ancient Australian tale really, and by now pretty cliched - city versus bush knowledge; the mysteries of the ancient land appreciated by locals including indigenous elders and even animals, but not by 'coastal' newcomers. Bobby, a bushie, registers all this and knows it intuitively.

Miller, though, slowly and subtly reveals his rustic narrator to be be less of a country sage than a common provincial ignoramus. Emotionally immature, he can't resist the lure of a 13 year old girl, and stumbles pathetically even when he's doing the right thing in choosing not to run away with her. 

On the other hand the coastals' twisted logic is just as dumb. They're ruled by fear, irrationality and crude prejudice. We're talking about a newly arrived policeman and his ambitious wife. Yuppies. The 13 year old is their plucky daughter.

There's a climax. People are shot. Popular prejudices prevail and even the justice system is disgracefully compromised. The truth has no chance - the country boys are obviously guilty. The insipidity of the cold, coastal mind and its innate fear of the dark unknowable interior is victorious.

One has little sympathy in the end though for Bobby- someone who's too fucking stupid and unmotivated to defend himself against outrageous prejudice, and more importantly, defend his life long friend from execution.

The final scene, a reconciliation with the now adult girl, presumably a celebration of love, is cloying and sentimental. He spent 14 years in gaol because of her. I got angry.

Unfortunately I can't recommend you read this. There are far deeper books you should spend your time with.

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