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The trouble with
this book is that it's like childhood. The good bits are so good you want them
to last forever and the whole thing is over to too fast. Necessary Noise
is an edited collection of ten stories and poems about childhood and family
life. The editor, Michael Cart, provides an overview of the modern family in
his introduction and observes that the term has 'family' has come to assume a
bewildering variety of forms. This variety is reflected in the stories and
poems of Necessary Noise. There are nuclear, extended, reconstituted and
single parent families. Some are close, others distant, some disintegrating,
others stifled by closeness that threatens to destroy their individual members.
The stories are told through the eyes of children, but 'children' here extends
from pre-teens to young adults. In each case the focus is on the family unit
and the relationships between siblings, and between children and parents.
It's hard to pick
out a highlight from this collection. There are some stand-out stories that are
dramatically tense and emotionally poignant. In Rita Williams-Garcia's A
Woman's Touch, an adolescent boy's anger at his mother's lesbian partner
finds expression in boxing, and there is a message that trust and acceptance
can overcome the loss caused by the absence of a father. Joyce Carol Thomas
shows the unravelling life of Champ, a young man with schizophrenia, through a
touching series of letters between Champ and his mother. We experience Champ's
terror at the tigers that morph from his bedside lamp, his mother's desperation
at his disintegration, his sense of abandonment as she attempts to protect him
by admitting him hospital. The resignation that attends Champ's newfound
stability is not a reluctant acceptance of a lesser person, but pride in the
achievement represented by an ordinary life. Hardware is a warm and satisfying
story of a family that finds strength in hard times, and of the unifying power
of a common adversary. In Visit, Walter Dean Myers uses the unlikely but
convincing scenario of a death row reconciliation to explore the relationship
between father and son. The result is truly touching; the ending a haunting
vision of a young man who, although aware of his moral lapses, has gained an
honesty available, perhaps, only to those facing their own immanent death. The living
retain the power of self-deceit. Can a sister be as horrible as Sasha is to
Lucy in Sonya Sones' poem Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde? Apparently so.
Despite all, Lucy is forgiving. The Greek chorus feeling at the end, however,
suggests that Lucy's generosity might not be enough.
In a sparkling
anthology an individual story can suffer by comparison. For me the reporting
style in parts of Michael Cart's Sailing Away detracted from what was
otherwise a warm and engaging story of affection between growing boys. And I
found the sudden and complete reversal with which Evelyn, in Lois Lowry's Snowbound
renounced both vegetarianism and her boyfriend, while it was well signalled, a
little hard to credit. It might be that the characters were too sharply drawn
to begin with.
The authors of Necessary
Noise are mostly American, the one exception being Irish writer Emma Donoghue
who lives in Canada. All have
published novels or collections; many have won awards for their work. Each
contribution is distinctive, making pithy and provocative observations about
the world of children and families. The collection would appeal to teens and
young adults, as well as to a general readership. A recommended read.
© 2004 Tony
Tony O'Brien, Lecturer,
Mental Health Nursing, University of Auckland
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