Reviewed by Gretchen Winters
I did not enjoy reading this first novel by Peter Polites. It was raw, depressing, and contained just too much information about the gay community and the Greek boy, Bucky. While Peter Polites has obvious writing ability I felt there was too much shock value contained in every chapter. I’ve read that most first novels are significantly autobiographical, whether this is the case or not in Down the Hume it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the protagonist.
I also don’t understand the audience he is attempting to capture. The writing contains numerous sentences written in modern Greek. I was able to translate some of them as I studied modern Greek language and culture as part of a BA and believe me there is little culture in evidence when he’s writing in his parent’s language? I was hoping for some respite.
Historically, the south-western suburbs of Sydney were working-class and its residents suffered their share of trouble back in the 60s and 70s, usually more sinned against than sinning with their lack of services, work and transport options. Currently, it seems to have sunk even further and is now more sinister than squalid and featured in the news consistently with its ethnic gangland wars and drive-by shootings. It almost seems to the casual observer that even the police have given up.
Bucky is a Greek boy who seemingly has lost his way with his prospects for employment and with his family, which would naturally follow the close-knit Greek community in general, and with life in particular. It is quite apparent from the beginning of this novel that we are going to be taken into Bucky’s view of the seamy-side of the homosexual world of Sydney in which he is a player.
His boyfriend, ‘nice arms Pete’ is sadistic and his relationship with Bucky is violent. He is also Bucky’s drug supplier (when he feels like it). Bucky is addicted to prescription pain killers. ‘Nice arms Pete’ seems to be a steroid addict although that could probably go some way to explaining his sadistic behaviour.
Bucky’s mother is also addicted to prescription pain-killers and when Bucky isn’t stealing them from her he manages to raid the drug cupboard at work to top up the supply. His parents are also unhappy that he is gay.
It’s all down-hill from there. “Nice arms Pete” is promiscuous and Bucky stalks him to see what is going down with the competition.
Apart from a dead-end job as a bar attendant, Bucky’s current job is in an aged-care facility where one of the inmates, who is also gay, is fleeced of all his money by the gay doctor, with whom Bucky has a fling and his ex-lover “nice arms Pete”. We are taken through the seedy streets off the Hume (highway) and each chapter is devoted to one of these streets in the now multi-ethnic south-western suburbs. Residents are referred to as “lebs, naquibs, MILFs, twinks “– the perjorative descriptions are varied and remorseless. You really start to wonder about the ‘unique’ story that our politicians like to sprout about to anyone who cares to listen about our inclusive population and the success of multi-culturalism!
In Bucky’s story we are also taken to Darlinghurst for some trysts in the gay bars and discos of eastern suburbs Sydney and although they might come from a better-class (?), the outcome and sex seems to be more of the same in different surroundings.
The author is a writer of Greek descent from Western Sydney. As part of the Sweatshop writers’ collective Peter Polites has written and performed pieces all over Australia. Alongside SMH Best Young Novelists, Luke Carman and Michael Mohammad Ahmad, Polites wrote and performed Three Jerks – a spoken word piece about the Cronulla riots- to sell-out crowds in Sydney and Melbourne. His most recent play Home Country written with Andrea James and Gaele Sobott, centres on migrant experiences in Western Sydney and was performed as part of Sydney Festival in Jan 2017.
Unsurprisingly, I can’t identify with any of the characters in the story – not even his mother.
I think it’s almost implausible that she could be suffering from gangrene of the feet and her son Bucky doesn’t seem to need to call an ambulance until it is too late. Apart from Bucky working in an aged care residence, surely someone with even the most basic knowledge of first aid and the effects of smoking, alcohol and drug addiction would be aware there was a problem when faced with the state his mother was in. The Greek culture is trashed as far as I am concerned, but it is obviously someone’s reality of life.
It comes with a warning:
“A confronting novel from a powerful new voice. For fans of Christo Tsiolkas’ Loaded and Luke Davis’ Candy.”
I think this is an under statement.
By Peter Polites
$27.99 paperback; $16.99 e-Book