T by Alan Fyfe

Reviewed by Rod McLary

T [or Timothy] is a tweaker – a slang term for someone who is addicted particularly to methamphetamines [or meth] – and is the protagonist of this uncompromising but lyrical novel describing the world inhabited by those who are dealing in or using – or both – illicit drugs.  Just as Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip did in 1977 with Nora and Javo, T charts the day-to-day lives of T and his compatriots as they eke out a living on the margins of society.

The novel begins with a death – ‘Two medics brought Gulp’s body down the stairs from his house very early on a Saturday’ [9].  Gulp is T’s supplier and he is on his way to Gulp’s rented silo to collect when he observes Gulp’s body being removed.  Even at this rather tragic moment, there is an element of farce as the trolley on which Gulp’s body was strapped ‘turned over and became airborne’ [10].  But this is an example of the imaginative and creative – and sometimes humorous – writing as the author charts the story of T and his fellow companions.

Gulp’s death brings T to a decision point – time to quit?  But there is Cardo – a larger than life character who is not above using brute force to gain advantage.  So T continues being a tweaker and along the way the reader is introduced to Lori-Bird, Cardo and Gobbo both ‘with a rock-brutal aura that vibrated the air’ [50], D.V. and Nerve and Tongue.  In the drug sub-culture, proper names are never used.  It is not until Lori-Bird retreats from the group and forms a relationship with J.C. that we discover her proper name is Laurette.

The narrative is replete with drug-related jargon, expletives [especially the ‘c’ word which manages at various times to be a noun, adjective and verb], and instructions on how best to prepare and smoke meth.  But T is not just a gritty and realistic novel about drugs and those who buy, sell and use them – there is a depth to each of the characters and each has more in common with the reader than perhaps one would think.  Cardo and Loop have young children and, at one stage during a night of socialising, the children are put to bed.  ‘When T saw Cardo with his children, he almost liked the man’ [62].  Cardo is self-educated – primarily by the internet – and can quote scripture as he searches for a way to be free: ‘freedom was happiness’.  Another character references Bruegel’s Fall of Icarus making the point there are consequences if one flies too close to the sun.

T wants to create a relationship with Lori-Bird but the pull of the drugs interferes at every turn.  He disappears for days at a time without explanation before or after, but the critical point is reached when he supplies meth to Lori-Bird’s fourteen-year-old nephew.  T is unskilled in relationships and knows that he should have done something when she started crying ‘but all he could think about was lying down’ [81].

T is a brilliant novel – certainly it is immersed in the sub-culture of drugs and criminality and replete with bad language and violence but the characterisation of the protagonists is imaginative and authentic.  The writing is consistently lyrical even when deep in descriptions of the day-to-day lives of those for whom drugs are an essential part of life.  T for all his failings is an engaging protagonist and the reader cannot but help wanting him to break away from drugs and reinvent a life for himself.  Whether he is ultimately able to achieve that is for the reader to discover.

Recommended to all readers who enjoy gritty realistic novels of a high calibre.

Alan Fyfe is originally from Mandurah and his verse and prose has been published in Westerly, Overland and Australian Poetry Journal.  He was an inaugural editor of UWA creative writing journal Trove.  T has been shortlisted for the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and the International Chaffinch Press Award [Ireland].

T

[2022]

by Alan Fyfe

Transit Lounge Publishing

ISBN 978 0 648414 03 2

$29.99; 232pp

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