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Miriam Zolin

How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland & Tristessa And Lucido by Miriam Zolin

September 2003, no. 254

One of Frank Moorhouse’s stories in his collection The Americans, Baby (1972) vividly describes two people’s tentative steps across a divide. It is a sexual overture, but also one that defies the constraints of national stereotypes. Carl, an Australian university student, bristles at an American man’s advances. Uneasy about his new sexual identity, he is unable to shake the sense that he is consorting with the enemy, at a time of mass protests against the Vietnam War. At the story’s end, the two men lie together in bed holding hands. The American urges his Australian lover to wipe his tears, then comments obliquely: ‘I guess this is the way it is with us.’

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Early in Charlotte Wood’s previous novel The Children (2007), one of Stephen Connolly’s sisters describes him as lost; she says he carries within him ‘a bedrock of resentment … never articulated and never resolved, but which has formed the foundation for his every conversation, every glance from his guarded eyes’. Readers may disagree with this harsh assessment as they read Wood’s new novel, Animal People, in which Stephen is the primary focus – this time more anxious than resentful. He is an inherently difficult character, but not a bad man. Wood unpacks him – sometimes ruthlessly – to reveal a person bewildered by the demands of all kinds of relationships.

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Any attempt to write a novel that covers three generations, two centuries, and two continents is undeniably ambitious. Include subject matter that ranges from Jewishness and gemstones to the occult, and set the story in a vibrant and sometimes turbulent time in the history of Melbourne and Victoria, from the 1850s gold rushes to the early 1900s, and the possibilities are exciting. Whether A ...

Writing about music, it is frequently said, is in a parlous state, with ever-falling word counts contributing to the dumbing down of the genre. A publication such as Extempore, focusing on Australian jazz, should be well placed to step into the breach, but its second issue struggles to assert its importance.

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