David Free’s ‘Get Poor Slow’.

REVIEW 2

Get Poor Slow

‘Was I in the mood to stab a pitbull?’ Hell yeah!

David Free and I are alike. We are both Men Geniuses of OZLit, although we have taken very different approaches to our promotional photos. There’s much of Free’s writing that I would be envious of if I hadn’t already written it. I see David standing before a huge portrait of Man Genius, cherishing the words he imagines coming from my lips, admiring my rugged jaw and full head of hair. Sometimes, the picture morphs into Kingsley Amis, Eliot, Hemingway, Nabokov, Roth. But behind them all the elusive genius of OZLit watches. I know he remembers me swirling at the bottom of his last drink. As he writes, “jealousy can do nasty things to the mind”.

Because he admires me, there’s a lot I admire about him. Like me, Free can manage a range of genres (long reviews, novels, short reviews, and long novellas) but his choice of noir fiction is excellent. The genre liberates him from the burden of being original, while also capturing what is distinct about him: his similes are as watertight as my metaphors, and his metaphors are good too: “His nostrils pushed out tusks of smog”.

As old-fashioned Men Geniuses do, Free moans about life through the voice of his hardboiled lead. The cries of the heart are moving: “My metaphors are behind the times. I no longer know how the world around me works. When did I get so old? One day I was twenty, and the next I was halfway to death”. Saint’s/Free’s despair is related to the big gamble of his life, his choice to become a writer. At times, he is sulky: “I’d rather be me and have nothing to look at but a dirt drive and a couple of fat old gums”.

Picador’s promotional photo of Free shows that dropping out from Bunnings and L. J. Hooker capitalism can take a high physical toll. This is something I counter with a rigorous hot yoga program, which I offer every holiday season just outside of Byron Bay. It’s surprising that as a resident of tropical Northern NSW Free has not availed himself of my services. I also hold writing and yoga retreats in Fiji with complementary psycho-therapy sessions—DM me for details on an $8000 3-day special.

Part of Free’s lament is that “books are in deep shit”, the newspaper trade “is giving out the death gargle”, and “fiction’s dead in this country”. I agree, and as a fellow Man Genius I also agree that standards have dropped:

“It had decorum as dildos went. Its girth was modest.”

There is an unspoken panic about this issue in Man Genius land, and it haunts Free’s book. After years of pulling our symbolic penises to make them longer and heaven bent, some time in the 21st Century news came that thickness was the thing people wanted. It’s hard to get the Playdoh back in the jar. Thanks to David it’s being talked about.

Making things worse is that new feminists like Missy Wilde write about “how bad their boyfriends are at making them come”. Marieke Hardy comes to mind as a possible model for Free’s Wilde. Who else “doesn’t just do TV” “wearing stockings with black suspenders” but “goes on panels and talks about the politics of body image”? Hardy like Wilde “is a feminist of the new school [which] means they show you a lot of flesh but you’re not allowed to look”. This bold sexuality alongside men’s growing awareness of their thinness on top and down below is more evidence that women are stealing, not making, Men Geniuses’ lunches. It’s obvious Ray Saint has a hard-on for Marieke Hardy even though he tries to convince himself that she’s not his type.

Saint calls women “girls”. Jade, the hot 26-year-old has “boyfriends”. This language seems childlike in the face of 26-year-old women like Jennifer Down, who doesn’t recall a ‘boyfriend’ but rather “the man I was fucking”. I know Men Geniuses yearn for a little more romance, but the truth is we live in dark times.

Considering Free’s predicament of poverty and lost love, I recommend taking two wives from wealthy families, or even two wives from the same wealthy family, as Jack Thompson did in the 80s. This worked for me, and many little disciples have come of it. I visit them in the holidays and teach them the ins and outs of grievance correspondence.

Free delivers his De Profundis mid-way, via the following trick: Ray Saint’s comments on a performance within the story double as Free’s comments on his novel. Saint is “in the dock” “saying his piece” but it’s really Free saying his piece. We’ve seen this before, but I have a sense that I’ve seen the details before, perhaps in something magnificent I wrote in an earlier period of my evolution. There’s the same self-aware exhibition within an exhibition, along with the very same T. S. Eliot quotes about “purifying the dialectic of the tribe”, gripping “the still point of the turning world”, and filing the “fragments I have shored against my ruins” with the ATO. And is Free now allowing us to copy T. S. Eliot without using quotation marks? If the references seem old, remember I’m an odourless and colourless messenger.

He writes about “the cadaver of [his] unpublished novel”. Is this A Dancing Bear (ADB) or another novel? ADB is a patchy campus novel that Free put online in 2008, and when I checked again in 2016 it was still a patchy campus novel that had been luminously copy edited. With each year it became more polished yet remained unviable. In online publishing, old editions vanish, unless readers download or screenshoot them. It’s worth noting that after almost a decade of being available online for free, ADB has disappeared in recent weeks. The strategy? We can hide the cadaver or you can buy it.

Steve Romei wrote a mate’s review for Get Poor Slow. His opening paragraph is shithouse. The first line “Today I want to talk about two novels by newish Australian writers” is followed by “Free and McGuire are long-time writers”, and his point that “Free’s no literary insider” is supported by his point that Free makes “biting in-jokes”. I admire the sick humour of blatant self-contradiction.

Romei admits that “Free, who self-published his first novel, A Dancing Bear, in 2007, is a regular reviewer here. We’ve been in email contact since but have not met”. Romei continues: “Skeats, the literary editor, is gym-fit and handsome, with a full head of hair and a pointillist beard. He wears nice suits. See, I told you I was in it!” Got it, Romei and Free have never met, but Free’s Skeats is physically based on Romei. So, what have my Holmes-like deductions deduced? David Free uses Google images.

Romei’s review came in July 2017. In October 2016, Picador’s Geordie Williamson tweeted that “the brilliant David Free has written a sublimely nasty piece of antipodean noir for Picador called Get Poor Slow”. It’s all such a luvvie love-in, even though nobody’s met. It’s the Man Genius of OZLit Club. I dream of a circle of men including Jason Steger and James Bradley (Susan Wyndham’s not invited) looking up at a portrait of Me, the big Man Genius. They rhythmically dance to my Ideal. Genius transcends and remains itself. The boys are mine even after they divest themselves of me. My wise-guy snags.

Romei is Jeremy Skeats. The ‘Remy’ in ‘Jeremy’ is the phonic link to ‘Romei’. Ray Saint and Skeats desire Jade. Ray is jealous about Jade and envious of Skeats, who’s “Golden Boy. Show Pony. Fraud” (Note: this multiple naming of an enemy might be borrowed from my own works). Ray worries about Skeats “penetrating her”. He worries that she wants “his column inches” and quizzes Remy for details of how they “did it”. But Ray wants images of Remy just as much as ones of Jade. She refracts Ray’s homosexual lust, of which there is plenty in the novel: “After yanking at Skeats’ slot, I’d finally scored this dribble of a payoff”. Skeet skeet skeet as Chapelle would say. Romei Skeet. Ream and Skeet. Skeet is a letter off Steve. Free’s aware but not in control of this show of leaking repression. It all climaxes in Saint “pretty much” getting fucked by a bad villain whose penis was “larger and nastier than [his]”. During a fight “his cock was on my belly, and it was rock-hard”. Tragically (for the novel) the desire turns to fear, and Free ends it in the worse way possible: the aroused straight guy bashes the “freak”. Such a pity.

One of the villains looks like James Dean and is some kind of genius. Now come on, who does that remind you of? Furthermore, Saint wrestles with his opponent, his alter ego, in a manner I find is indebted to my work. The number of people I think I’ve influenced would take your breath away.  It’s foolish, even impossible, to go mano a mano with me. And, by the way, I suffer for my writing too—some people only talk to me because of my looks.

Is Free, with his Ern Malley references, alluding to the idea that Saint is the literary hoaxer and, by association, that he himself is a puppeteer? If so the allusion has no substance. Philosophical issues swirl but never settle in the book. Free is gesturing in good faith, he’s a gentleman. But why not cut the allusions? Will noir readers be interested in Malley? Is Free encouraging them to explore the hoax or is he addressing the smaller OZLit audience? There’s also a reference to Prospero, the magician, which is overly ambitious. Maybe he’ll nail that in the next novel.

As Men Geniuses, Free and I are alienated. He’s “a lone-wolf writer, steeped in iffiness and private murk”. I’m a super-wolf who doesn’t like the euphoria of the pack. We’re disobedient. Workplaces demand obedience while promoting disloyalty. Who agrees that their own debasement is good for them? Free nicely captures this work-murk in OZLit The bosses worship one thing: “It was about rank. It was about Skeats’s thirst for deference. If you didn’t give him that, he felt like … nothing”. Too right! I applaud Free for registering some resistance.

Saint’s punished for rejecting rank. Men Geniuses often are. It leaves them broke in the Wesfarmers and Woolworth’s Limited franchise wasteland. Quality products are hard to find. The start of Get Poor Slow is a quality product, but the quality drops off. The single perspective and unrelenting self-recrimination get hard to take. The end sounded like he was pitching it to his agent. I even detected a little bad writing. “Fillets of light” appears twice. Picador’s copy editors give us the word ‘sby’. At one point, he comes across as a nob: “A lab rat who thought he was a PhD”. Saint moans that he has dedicated his life to writing, has jumped with the hope that “something will break [his] fall”, that “there will be a public down there”.  Sheeeiit, who goes to bed thinking a public will save them? He wails “When I was twenty, I thought the world would care about what I wrote, if I wrote well enough”. Some Men Geniuses’ first choice is writing, and some choose to live a life worth writing about.

In a busy week, I enjoyed coming back to Get Slow Poor and the noir style. There’s a great Hobbesian joke. He nearly lost me when a Howard Jacobson book arrived, and when I picked up a Ken Kalfus collection. I don’t read much but Free’s novel is probably better than a lot of OZLit. I enjoyed and deplored the resurrection of the dead white male. Maybe Free will win a Stella Award, but they’ve got it in for reviewers and the gender imbalance in Australian reviewing, although they express no interest in the imbalance that has 75% of all authors and publishers in Australia being women. But as the Man Free says, “truth has an awesome gravity”.

So, there you have it: penis girth, wanting to sleep with Marieke Hardy and Steve Romei, unacknowledged debts (no page of acknowledgements shrieks of genius!) a cabal of male reviewers, dead white men and hot 26-year-olds, some good writing, and Ern Malley topped off with Prospero and a pitbull.

NOTES

Genre makes some things easier.

Freeway, freefall, freelance, freestyler, freebase, freeball.

The ladies who dominate the demoted literary scene might be right: the old-fashioned punch-ups are boring.

He writes reviews. Maybe he’s a Man Genius reviewer.

The awkwardness after the Vagg meeting up to Chapter 5 (actually this dead spot extends well into Chapter 5. I recall similar robbery scenes (‘a dark still shape against the darker room’).

There’s a humorous section where Free goes all Young Liberal and mocks the big Aussie novel.

A recent Twitter discussion about Frank Moorhouse mentioned he didn’t have much money. Moorhouse gave more than some enjoying comfortable superannuation returns. Maybe he lived large and burnt money, but I doubt researching the United Nations on small Canberra grants (after writing great comedy) allowed him to stand at the prows of the world’s superyachts. The gift is generous, exceeds calculations, lifts many, and often leaves its vehicles burnt out in a ditch on the side of the road. Here’s an idea: sweetrelief.org/ 

The danger, as Prince observed, is that women like Wilde can ‘make you shoot your ego all over your sheets’, and I’m thinking sheets of paper here.

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