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Luke Carman

Our high school art teacher would often look at a student’s work and judge it ‘interesting’. Sometimes this was a written comment, accompanied by a lacklustre mark like 14/20, which led us to suspect – perhaps rightly – that ‘interesting’ was a euphemism for ‘inept’. Now I wonder if it occasionally meant: curious, out of the ordinary, sui generis, hard to grade or categorise, or distinctive if not fully achieved. If so, Luke Carman’s short story collection An Ordinary Ecstasy is ‘interesting’: eclectic, uneven, at times ungainly. You have the sense that Carman is following the maxim ‘write for yourself’. Past success has earned him that privilege and, as Carman’s tumbleweed talent rollicks untamed across the streets of Sydney’s Inner West out to Blacktown and as far north as Byron Bay, the results are never pedestrian.

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Late in his first collection of anecdotal short stories, Luke Carman’s narrator, also named Luke Carman, realises that the magic in a book he loves, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, cannot be replicated in his own life. He is stuck in Australia, and ‘Australia is not the place for ecstatic truth.’ Stuck, to be precise, in Sydney’s western suburbs, depicted as an uncultured wasteland of ‘high-rises, methadone clinics and car yards’. A complicated patchwork of ethnicities blankets this terrain: ‘Fairfield is full of Latinos’, ‘Cabra’s all about Asians’, ‘Penrith is just scumbag Aussies’, etc. It is more melting pot than multiculturalism, as Carman shows the youth leading dismal lives of depressing homogeneity. On ‘bone-grey streets spare and grim’, they drift about, squawking broken, racist language at one another, the ennui lifting only when the war cry is bawled: ‘you wanna punch on?’

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