There are many treasures to be discovered in Peter Bowes’ Bloodlines; the Australian author’s writing is rich with life and the living of it.
Some of the pieces in this collection are heartbreaking; perhaps they only bear reading once. The Country Girl, for example, which describes in painful and unflinching detail the ‘blameless punishment’ suffered by a young woman sent to Sydney by her perplexed mother. And the sick, bed-bound mother in There is no peace, whose son visits, ‘slipping through the back door like a thief’, but only to check on his illicit business; her bedroom door remains closed.
In Erin and the ideology of hate, Bowes documents his feeble attempt to expiate a childhood sin committed unknowingly against survivors of the Nazi death camps; and in Lonely Young Bones he describes the return of an old friend who is hoping to find his only son, too late, of course. There are glimpses, too, of broken and fragile lives, lives that are bewildered or defeated.
But Bowes also celebrates life, sometimes in unexpected and fleeting moments: a severely disabled boy in The Variety Club bus, strapped in the oven-heat of a bus who punches the air in borrowed elation after catching the author’s eye; a shared moment with a grandchild in Ari Levi and the oranges; a telephone conversation with his father in Leigh.
Strangely absent socks
This collection also includes Clyne’s virus, Darwin’s Theory, a discursive and very funny account of snakes hiding in hard drives, strangely absent socks, Darwin, and philosophic musings beneath the ‘endless carpetry of a diamonded night’. And in Norman and his tides, we also meet Norman, ‘his mother’s best work’, whose various chronic disabilities mean that he moves like ‘a man up to his neck in water walking against four strong tides’:
He backed his car up the drive fast enough to scatter the dogs and when Norm forcibly ejected his body from the cab and walked towards the front door it was like watching a man up to his neck in water walking against four strong tides; where every tide pulled every limb in a different direction and Norm fought them all step by dogged step as he had done for all his eighteen years and when he finally reached the door and bent over to kiss my wife she held his handsome head a while and I watched my two little daughters over there in the hallway staring at him open-mouthed…
Later, before he left, he spoke to my two daughters in his slow and tortured way, and even now, forty years on when I ask them what it was they talked about that night, they will only smile at me, women being as they are.
Picture: South Steyne, Australia, copyright Bruce Usher