Category Archives: Kirk AC Marshall

Black Rider presents The Diamond and the Thief 22

Artwork by Ryan Michael Swearingen (

…and now on to edition 22 of our minizine, with all the announcements of the Marquise of O.

In this edition Corey Wakeling looks to the deserts, Allison Browning hears the moment, JJ Deceglie descends to ascend and Kirk Marshall talks human theremin.

Look homeward, angels!

The Black Rider

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Filed under Allison Browning, Black Rider Press, Fiction, Kirk AC Marshall, Poetry, The Diamond & the Thief

Pre-order ‘Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories’

You can now pre-order Kirk Marshall’s fiction debut at Black Rider Press.

Just quietly – it’d be a good idea if you did.

Orders ship from Monday 21 November 2011.

Kirk will launch the book at Avid Reader in Brisbane on 17 November 2011. See the Avid Reader website for more information and to RSVP. You should go. It’ll be awesome.

Check out what these cats said about the book.

Get caught up with the preface and get the right perspective.

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Filed under Black Rider Press, Brisbane, Fiction, Kirk AC Marshall, Published

Black Rider Lines: Preface to Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories

These Kids Today, David Foster Wallace & a Reflection on Style

by Kirk Marshall (2009)

A MISSPENT YOUTH (circa 1996)

Like the percussive reverberence of prize marbles colliding with hopscotch slate: Let us invite the image to materialise behind our shuttered retinas, phosphorous and striking. Like a chorus of one hundred, one thousand Christmas crackerjack crackling together in a perpetuitous sequence of one-second delays: Let us call up this truth, activate it, conjure it from the swimmy consciousness which possesses it. Let us fashion onto it a cloth of some importance, let us attribute to it volumes of marvel and mystery. Like a dragon with the heart of a powderkeg firework imploding into a pyre of smoke and St. Elmo’s fire over an open body of still water: Let us quieten our collective pulses and reign in our searching hands, and listen to the sound of this eleven year-old boy’s pencil as it describes the wide hemispherical language of his densely-packed prose, whittling away the negative space on his ring-bound Foolscap notebook – his first – with the cultivated discipline of an ice-sculptor, perhaps, or an Inuit architect.

The child’s words are polysyllabic ones, and the character of his glyphs are travestied and lurid, round and slightly, peripherally aslant. There are more curves here than on English economy class. And owing in no immodest part to the fact that the kid had only developed wrists about two years prior, his sentences dribble at weird and disconcerting trajectories down the length of the page. These are, as the teachers of this prepubescent catastrophe with the furrowed forehead and the set jaw have exhaustively attested, not orthodox sentences; not really the sort of material that they’d anticipated; not the phylum of philologic play which these primary-school academics’ three-year degrees had promised would exist their end of the workforce trail. To abbreviate and collapse the multiplicitous opinions of all his teachers into a unitary consensus view, this kid was surely some spectacular freak species – you couldn’t claim ears like that normal – but it was the way he’d fury away with that pencil grafted firmly to his unflagging fist which provoked Nightmare On Elm Street flashbacks.

Hoo-boy, did he provoke them into fits of discomfiture. There wasn’t a solitary Catholic childhood educator amongst the notoriously haunted pack of them who enjoyed a full and unadulterated night’s sleep after reading some of the lunatic shit he composed during class. It wasn’t just robots battling gelatinous men composed entirely out of snot which startled them out of their salubrious academic apathies, nor the unprecedented plot digressions involving Parasauralophus (some kind of pre-Jar Jar Binks dinosaur equipped with a head which can shoot out torpedoes of goo at enemy ninjas) and the Bicyclops (He has one bicycle for a head, and when he’s super-mad the bell rings an attack-warning!). Nossir – it was the tireless invention and the haggard devotion invested in these narratives which sustained the trauma experienced by his teachers. He didn’t really seem to appreciate their brand of puritanical Christian-school discipline, like being asked to rigorously rewrite his fiction before it was designated sufficiently devoid of all that crazy verbiage – proboscis, for example, or vomitous – to justify a golden star or an immaculate red tick.

In fact, and this generated genuine fear amongst their affronted lunch-hour staff committees, the little grey-eyed spook appeared to thrive off being afforded a new opportunity to “polish” his prose. His phrase-making would become more elaborate, more polyphonic, shirking thrift and economy for noise and rabble, but the clincher was in the quality of his demented imagery. As vivid as Rapture, as loquacious as a sky teeming with angels and ravens, the kid’s stories scored hot, horrible visual epiphanies into the tissue of his every teacher’s brain, and when these victims were finally unburdened at the advent of his grade-school graduation, not one doubt gestated within their rhapsodic hearts. This monstrous little despot of dreams would be a writer. Like the scene in The Fifth Element where the newly-formulated, sentient, obsidian satellite grows bigger, vaster in circumference by being blasted at with nuclear warheads, this kid’s energy continued to prevail. Criticism only reinforced his trajectory. Editorial dismay arising from the proliferation of adjectives, neologisms and damaged characters littering his work only helped to feed the kid’s monkey.

Like a cannonade of buckshot being dispensed into the unfaltering phalanx of a spider army: Let us tell it how it was. Everyone was soon entangled in and engulfed by the sticky filaments of his spew of words. The boy would be a writer, a fictioneer. The stain was on the inside, on his soul, like the Mark of Cain.



Reading first about David Foster Wallace’s suicide by stumbling upon the pithy entry of an online weblog two days after the event, I sat with knuckles balled on the sweat-warped knees of my grey jeans and reeled.

Unashamed, I’ll concede that I only timorously dipped into Foster Wallace’s self-reflexive, Rabelaisian, 1,079-paged exhaustion of prose, Infinite Jest (1996): I tested the waters, equipped with trepidatious toe, demonstrating the same inseizable horror of the osprey in descent towards a bloom of fish. (See, an osprey, – to mix metaphors with the artifice of a literary barman, – having gambled its hand, knows with some prognosticative certainty that the moment it thrusts its talons into the back and dorsal fin of a thrashing codfish, it can drown. Fuck eugenics: My hereditary fondness for ornithology, compounded with an alarming long-term memory which archives even the most dispensable nonsense-conversation, has ensured I now retain a fact about ospreys I learnt in primary school, sixteen years ago. The blue eagle of the seas will surrender herself, risk the carnivorous embrace of the ocean, so that she may capture a meal for her children; if the codfish proves too heavy for the osprey’s swift frame and wingspan, the bird cannot retract her talons: she submits herself, snap, to an Icarean death.)

So that’s the general sense of gravity and commitment which I artfully surmised went hand-in-glove (talon-in-flesh?) with braving Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Reading his chimerical novel was no sun-soaked, desert-island enterprise. You certainly don’t brandish paperback editions at friends as suggested holiday fare (not unless you secretly harbour a deep-seeded loathing for them, or perhaps are seeing them off prior to their disembarking to the moon). And you won’t prove anything to the devout, chai-swilling Christian readership of your altruistic suburban bookclub by recommending Infinite Jest, not a single inky-dink, unless it’s that your soul’s as black as Lucifer’s desktop screensaver. And you don’t, you just don’t tell the girl with the heartbreaking cascade of strawberry blonde hair sitting with paranoid unease next to you on the public bus, Now I don’t know you, but I overheard you laughing on the phone, and if you think he promises amusement, you ain’t yet laughed the way the Fine Almighty, David Foster Wallace, and Little Brown Publishing intended! No, it’s a sad case: You won’t make friends, you won’t advertise your genetic predisposition as an efficient hunter or a chieftain walking loftily amongst more feeble men, you won’t describe your aptitude for boring tasks or your potentially illegal intelligence, you won’t secure the implacable hearts of all the world’s Farrah-faced female temptations by revealing that you’d stuck it out through Infinite Jest.

Reading Foster Wallace’s novel is an indisputable achievement, but it’s also a demonstration of brazen risk, and probably not something to stimulate the covetous inclinations of dawn-headed strangers on public transport. To resuscitate our youth-woozy analogy, Infinite Jest is some deep-water Goby fish with a chasmic mouth to instil a chill in a God-fearing Ahab, let alone a bird-of-prey like the osprey. Foster Wallace tests his reader throughout, creating a reading experience which is both disconcerting and vertiginous, willing you to drop the leviathan and seek higher ground. I’d hazard that the few who succeed maintain their commitment to the text by immersing themselves in the comedy of Foster Wallace’s literature, not the complexity.

I can’t claim to have possessed the sufficient gamble to get much further than the first seventy pages. It was the unbroken three-paged list of medical and pharmaceutical drugs – a concordance of polysyllabic biochemical words that interrupted the narrative in a self-reflexive literary attempt to describe the breadth of one character’s pill-popping addiction – which finally exhausted me. At the time of purchase, two years prior, it frustrated, if not violated my obligations as a reader of experimental prose. Consequently, I buried Infinite Jest’s lurid and mocking spine, as wide as a baby’s handspan, in my protesting bookshelf and contented myself in the delusion that Foster Wallace’s novel hadn’t bested me, that I’d extracted what was essential to the work and had discarded the remainder. But when you’re a writer, and so questionably imbalanced, lies can only nourish you for so long. Soon your pride flares up like the head of an adder. My failure to read David Foster Wallace’s book began to develop symbolic overtones. There was more at stake, here, then just my integrity as a reader or as an appealing bus passenger. My patented inability to delight in a tome of postmodernist autodidactic fiction which The Sydney Morning Herald averred as “literary genius” advertised something about my capacity as a reader. I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I built shrines to Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemmingway. Eventually I waded with lunatic eyes through Infinite Jest’s hundred pages of addendum and encyclopaedic footnotes in an effort to decipher the enigma, to coax out the sphinx, to channel the certain epiphany abandoned to dormancy from out of Foster Wallace’s heavy text. I failed again, and immediately transferred my attention, I think, to The Little Prince. Something with pictures, anyway.

It was more than half a year later, after my post-traumatic Infinite Jest distress had finally subsided, when I initiated my first conversation about Foster Wallace with a friend who I’d always determined could in fact be entirely crazy. It took five minutes for him to convince me that, despite all the psychic scarring and the arsenal of reservations I’d stockpiled, Infinite Jest was still entitled a semblance of literary value. Of course, most of those five minutes involved him gratuitously wallowing in his success at having finished the novel, but to my genuine shock and abasement, I started to laugh when he discussed a scene in Foster Wallace’s work whereby the central protagonist’s father commits suicide by inserting his head into an operational microwave. How could I have denied myself the glee generated by such terrible and terrific satire, by stopping short? I decided, therefore, that Foster Wallace was merely a writerly jerk-off. But assuredly not a write-off. Thus, upon entering badly-stocked bookstores and bewildering the counter-staff with my aggressive and irritating laughter, I soon found myself forging a personal conviction to read the more digestible examples of Foster Wallace’s musings.

There were stories of linguistic pyrotechnics! Essays of formal subversion and generous silliness! With humble pie fermenting in the pit of my stomach, I realised that Foster Wallace wrote similarly to myself. He committed himself to the architecture of interesting, shambling, discombobulating sentences. His was a sesquipedalian syntax, as verbose as a baby whose Alphabetti Spaghetti contained hidden Mary Poppins references: supercalifragilistic-expialidocius! Described here were the territories of the Difficult Wordsmith: nothing was lazy, was easy, no phrase was divorced of character, every analogy or zeugmatic sentence bristled with convolution and erudition. Did people like this? For my part, I wrote challenging literature because that’s how my mind operated; when I’d finished all withstanding homework during class-time in primary school one teacher had thrust an outdated Websters Dictionary at me and instructed that I read. My vocabulary expanded exponentially, like a puffer-fish adopted by a family of volleyballs. Soon I knew too much obscurantist phraseology, too much arcana, to be able to write a story without it informing my personal stylistic; I could read six novels simultaneously, and did, frequently, but such a tumultuous spume of words meant that when it came to creating my own fiction, I wrote with a thesaurus for a heart and with a pantheon of authorial gods inhabiting my soul. Like a monopoly of clowns hijacking a limousine out of nothing but pure hedonistic impulse, it was my new-born vocabulary which piloted the flight of my words. I was a victim of verbiage. And yet somewhere along the line Stockholm Syndrome kicked in: I embraced the literary abuse, I made it work for me.

This calls for a discussion on the politics of transgression. Ferdinand de Saussure, the French semiotician and linguist, has a lot to say on this subject, as does the philosopher and intellectual Michel Foucault. Now, most learned readers like to believe, as it relates to cultural epistemology, that they’re Saussure, but I’m convinced the vast majority really know Foucault. (This is an old joke, which means I’m not to blame.) What seems readily apparent within their literature, after pursuing dangerous liaisons with an untrustworthy French dictionary, is that subverting the conventions of a social contract can only work when the text refers back to what it’s shunning, dismissing, dissing – on into perpetuity. For me, this constitutes the monsoonal and bountiful heartland of comedy. A writer who rearranges the pro forma for Lit 101 willingly submits him-or-herself to an act of sabotage. Kicking sacred cows is a political operation, not something you do when Farmer Joe is on the john. Perhaps I chose to rebel against the notion of the “simple story, well told” because I found freedom in disrupting the orthodoxy. But the anger has subsided from my work, and still the commitment to my style prevails. A joke doesn’t get old because it’s retold.

For his part, what David Foster Wallace’s shorter (and correspondingly, punchier) stuff attested to was that an elusive and heretofore illusory readership existed for him to feel comfortable in adopting his personalised style. The discovery was ungovernable. There were people who championed his work like it signified the frontier of literature, and even some of them composed reviews for important publications with names like The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph. When the impetus for plot progression dissolved in one of his fictions in order to foreground an authorial interjection on the most effective way to dismantle a bed, say, or when an essay on gourmet-cooking teemed with high-falutin’ footnotes describing the biological sensory system and pain threshold of the lobster, it was a cruel and awkward demand upon me not to feel a symbiosis with the man, not to celebrate my own work vicariously through his. If Foster Wallace had readers, then so must I! I was jazzed, incendiary, my time beneath the strobes of some future limelight was secured. In the meantime, whilst the portentous star of my future validation was rising, I’d occupy my time dreaming of spontaneous conversations on buses, invent problematic analogies involving osprey, and write fiction about gypsy caravans in Japan to provoke somersaults from the clouds and incite the fish into fits of laughter. The world spun about me like a galaxy of Roulette wheels, like the ghosts of Galileo and Copernicus. I eased into the seductive upholstery of Kirk’s Writing Chair and surrendered myself to the choreography of dancing fingertips.

My novella, “Carnivalesque”, an elaborate frame-narrative filtered with polyphonic ambition through the perspectives of ten multiethnic protagonists, came together under three months, after three drafts, with excursive re-reading of Chaucer, Bulgakov, and Faulkner. Directly prior to or following my traumatic writing sessions, neither possessing the funds nor the savagery to get drunk and exchange numbers with a particularly ugly hangover, I’d play the albums of Beirut aloud at maximum volume and gambol up and down the corridor in the pretence that I was a gypsy from the Caucasus. This did nothing to improve my writing, but it made returning to a novella-in-progress concerning an itinerant sideshow-caravan, extinct wolves, Irish midgets and decapitated Frenchmen seem sane in contrast. Being a notorious Maximalist, my story was dense, multi-layered, bombastic, populated by prodigies and dunces, and despite the verisimilitude to cake-baking instructions, it was self-satirising. If I were a responsible writer, I could have identified my readership in a twinkle, in a periwinkle. It wasn’t until my procrastinatory trawl through the opaque waters of untrustworthy websites, having intercepted news of Foster Wallace’s suicide, that my reading audience became apparent.

As far back as the moment when my magpie-brained raving secured me first-place in the Brisbane writers award for youth under the age of 17 in 2000, as far back as the tortuous process of maturity which both me and my writing had to endure to come into our own, I’ve been inspired by the taunting of teachers. Albeit sometimes I resemble (and act like) a hillbilly highwayman, and though occasionally I send readers into convulsions of miscomprehension, I’ve picked this path because it’s the one that was manifest to me ever since I was old enough to transgress the rules of my earliest critics. I write now, today, in an effort to prove that my vision, voice and violence against convention is valid, is worthwhile, even if there are certain circles who maintain I signify the corruption of the “transcendent signified”, the universal yarn. In fact, my writing hasn’t altered much since I was eleven, when I used to bite people and fall out of trees. I still use words like “vomitous” and “proboscis” but I’ve cultivated an appreciation for doing so sparingly, and only when it’s necessary to vault the reader into reveries of intellectualisation over creatures composed entirely of snot. Certainly, “Carnivalesque” favours Siamese twins and undead European hunters over the Bicyclops. Nonetheless, in the same way an arborealist can trace the evolution of a tree by making a transversal cut into its rings, if you squint hard enough whilst reading the novella, it’s not hard to delineate that the blueprint for this most recent fiction shares an awful likeness to those stories I shat out at my terrified grade-school teachers all those years ago. I can’t claim to understand why David Foster Wallace killed himself. Maybe he didn’t think anyone out there was actually listening. But I resolve to believe that for every style there exists a readership. Even if they’re hiding beneath the desks in their staff-room offices.

Foster Wallace, like the osprey, now sleeps with the fishes. His conviction and determination to bend rules has provided me an understanding of what my writing is permitted to do. A great man who met a sad end, may he enjoy his final and eternal joke whilst we maintain to grapple with his Infinite Jest*.

* The essayist would appreciate it if, upon reading this conclusion, you play Beirut’s “After the Curtain” and pirouette down the nearest corridor. For your convenience, a courtyard will do at a pinch. Thank you.


Filed under Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, Kirk AC Marshall

Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories – what they’re saying

Diabolically verbose, Carnivalesque: And, Other Stories is a joyous, demented orchestra of prose. Reading it is like being pulled into an intoxicating Japanese fug, and you’ll sometimes wonder whether Marshall has, indeed, drugged you. These aren’t stories for people with short attention spans (and you might not always understand what is happening), but pull the pages close: there is gold to be found in amongst this ensemble cast of misfits. — Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law

Kirk Marshall is a gifted wordsmith, a writer’s writer, and the Australian bearer of the tradition of the Beats. Like his forbear, Jack Kerouac, his prose lands like a flurry of punches, and you read him in a happy daze, words sparkling and fading like fireworks, jumping with vitality. Every story in this collection counts big. — Patrick Holland, Miles Franklin Award-longlisted author of The Mary Smokes Boys

Carnivalesque: And, Other Stories is a giddy, vertiginous whorl of comic absurdities embroidered in a baroque, Melvillean prose that pushes syntax to its very limits — a healthy dose of literary nitrous oxide that could only issue from Marshall’s delightfully warped, sesquipedalian talent. — Emmett Stinson, author of Known Unknowns

Donald Barthelme’s banter, Kenneth Patchen’s dialect, Alfred Jarry’s sense of occasion — all converging to track a lone surviving wolf dwelling in the vast forests of Hokkaido, a vastness only exceeded by the immensity of Marshall’s imagination. — David F. Hoenigman, author of Burn Your Belongings

Kirk Marshall has perfected “Carnie Fiction” with this offering of bold, sentimental, incendiary and comic prose. As we all line up outside the circus of new fiction, Kirk Marshall has cut to the front of the line. — Trevor Richardson, author of American Bastards

“Carnivalesque” is perhaps the perfect word to sum up Kirk Marshall’s writing. Like a fireworks display, it gives the impression of chaos and hypercolour, but is in fact instead a meticulously planned and executed feat of skillful timing and untethered imagination. It’s safe to say you’d have to traverse innumerate carnivals before you’ll find anything quite like this collection. A great work. — Christopher Currie, author of The Ottoman Motel

Reading Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories is more akin to witnessing astounding feats of live performance, in all their frenetic glory. Marshall uses language to craft his imagery with all the skill of an acrobatic contortionist. This collection is sheer literary bravado! — Amy Barker, author of Omega Park

Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories offers the reader pages of fine language surfeit with stark startles of description and a compelling obliquity of circumstance/setting. — Joshua Cohen, author of Witz

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Carnivalesque, And Other Stories by Kirk Marshall coming soon

Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories is Kirk Marshall’s fiction debut. More information soon

Cover art by tonne gramme
Photography by Danny Khoo

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The sound of the Black Rider: Kirk AC Marshall

Download Kirk AC Marshall reading Years of Viking Hospitality as featured in The Diamond & the Thief 2010.

Or stream it here:

Kirk AC Marshall – Years of Viking Hospitality from The Black Rider on Vimeo.

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Filed under Australia, Black Rider Press, Kirk AC Marshall, Spoken Word, The Diamond & the Thief, The Sound of the Black Rider

Black Rider Lines: A masterpiece of the Maranoa plain

A review of Patrick Holland’s The Mary Smokes Boys

By Kirk A.C. Marshall

While we are at an inextinguishably critical juncture in which the function of reviewing contemporary literature demands a sincere reassessment within the aperture of the global media — do we readers succumb to engaging in a measured and industrious critique for the underlying purpose of endorsement, of publishing promotions, of exclusively contributing to the generation of future book sales, without an oblique investment in actually framing the literature in the context of its substance? — one must always be wary of the motivations of journalistic hyperbole. This is an arduous task for a reviewer to perform with any degree of insightful consistency, of self-reflexive discernment, but it’s especially the case in the context of reading a great book.

Patrick Holland’s The Mary Smokes Boys is one of these. In fact, it’s easily one of my three favourite books this year (the others are Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom), and like those two triumphs of modern American fiction, Holland’s novel is a lyric testament to the power of a single writer capturing the world through the eye of his quill. Even in this age in which, at every fleeting moment, the economically-governed “progress” of global technology and commercial industry consumes an individual’s means to hypostatise the present — to capture an irrefutable vision of the place we hold in our millennial world with fire and eloquence and valour and violent intelligence before such a perspective is occluded entirely from view. Patrick Holland has proven himself robustly attuned to this task, and his second novel, The Mary Smokes Boys, swarms with the value of integrity and sensation in a way that works of fiction so rarely do, in our daily margins of profit and financial gain.

I can promise you that this will be the most significant new work of novel-length Australian fiction you will read from 2010 (I will not disparage nor diminish the vitality of other great and powerful works of original fiction, and from Alex Miller to Chris Womersley to Jon Bauer to Wayne Macauley to Emmett Stinson to Joel Deane to Daniel Ducrou to James Laidler ad infinitum, I know there are many), but Patrick Holland’s The Mary Smokes Boys vibrates beyond the realm of nepotistically-inclined marketplace comparisons, because the novel offers a reality so achingly wrought, so decisively rendered, so incendiary in its heartbroken hunt for human morality that the book, and its relevance, could only be tarnished by the limitations of analogy. So what about Holland’s narrative is so relevant to you or I?

First among many reasons is that he has crafted a story to chill the bones, one in which the haunting bildungsroman of Grey North — sole son to an emotionally-insensitive self-penitent Australian stockman given to vice, and an inexperienced but soulfully generous Gaelic mother devoted to Christianity whom we only come to know through retrospect — is transcribed to page with a trembling fidelity of purpose, and with an urgency and economy of phrase which intensifies the iconographic culture of Mary Smokes, foregrounds its symbolic heft as an almost apocryphal town to which all modern Australia has either originated from or retreated to: the locus of the heartland of our country.

Second among my rationale is that a story of these same dimensions, of a sharp-eyed boy growing up within a forsaken community to endure and transcend the emotional compromises of adolescence — which is to say, a premise almost originary in its vivid overuse within the context of Western literary fiction as to now be a mythology of our culture, a cipher of the way in which we look to writing to self-identify — supplants all prior constructs in the veracity of its articulation. Holland elevates the genre by exploiting the silences manifest within this project of adolescent growth: for example, Grey feels such an obligation of love for his younger sister, Irene, with such an unquestioned sacralising kinship as to channel an almost possessive pathology, as if Grey’s nondistinct (but always apparent) wounded reckoning to protect Irene was beyond the role of territorial older sibling and dancing on the cusp of desire (but this is of course the very point, for to bear human witness to something so beautiful is also to simultaneously engage in the conviction to attain that which is desired).

This isn’t a philosophical, psychological or psychosocial desire, either, but a physiological one; an embodied paean, engendered in a man’s breath and heart, to intervene on the behalf of that object of beauty, so that nothing can intrude to damage it. Irene is Grey North’s touchstone for the person he strives to become: a dependable protector, unlike his alcohol-crippled old man, an independent scholar of experience, like his best friend Ook, a wayfarer to the land of those same wild-prairie Queensland horse districts in which Holland himself enjoyed a boyhood, immersed for twenty-odd years in the music of a bluff of silent tussock, of a solitary fox padding away from the corona of the town’s menacing shadow, of the rumbustious meander of Mary Smokes Creek.

I could will myself here, as a discriminating reader, to broker a précis of the plot for Patrick Holland’s brilliant book — a small rural town, persecuted by bankruptcy, and simultaneously haunted by both the threat and deliverance of a new council-auspiced highway which will disrupt the sleepy isolation of Mary Smokes forever; the emergence of a love triangle which must by the consequence of its geometry only signify horrifying consequences for Grey, his blood brother, Ook, and his sister Irene; a rash attempt on Grey’s father’s behalf to salvage a family he himself unintentionally dismantled; a youthful ache to reconcile the difference in racial and political experience felt by oneself and one’s friends, to spurn the ubiquitous scorn of conservative values in the Abaddon-like outpost that is Mary Smokes; the fragility of something, a place, a heritage, a people, a melody, a life more precious than all others, being beset upon by those who, from their own dimensions of heartbreak, are already sickened by loss; a world weakened by one’s familiarity with it, until what originally made it spectacular has become a normativity, so that its votive of flame ends up guttering — but such attempts would only reduce the complexity of Holland’s emotional landscape to a thumbnail impression.

It’s best to leave it to the following letter, which I wrote to Holland, myself, upon reading his novel, to express the fullness of my gratitude. This is not just a novel of breathtaking vision, but one which displays a humbling respect for his readers. He invites you into the folds of a personal memory, and asks that you respond in kind.

I’ve just finished reading
The Mary Smokes Boys — literally ten minutes ago, and it just galvanised the tinder of my gut and heart and wrought me asunder: it is such a profound and powerful little novel, so towering with empathy and human compassion, for an authentic, undeviating, unprepossessed and always sincere affection & concern for your characters, and it bristles with pain; the pain we witness exchanged between Grey, Ook, Irene, Vanessa and the unfurnished desolation of what has coalesced over time and through a chasm of misdirected intention into the interior desolation of Bill North, and the exile & fidelity of the wild boys. But it also rings with a yawning, bloodbuzzed, free-throttle authorial pain which I can only discriminate, with the innermost transparency, to the sacrifice you had to make to write that lucid, staggering, awful, incendiary, most honest, vast and fire-breaking ending. I could never allow myself to channel that much hurt, for an ending like yours; it is testament to your certainty in the love for the people who populate this world that you dare to render such heartbreak, and stir the lost, wheeling embers inside the most fierce reader. I think this is actually an artefact of immense creation, Patrick, a vivid and living book, and that aching penultimate-chapter sacrifice feels corrosive in the best way; like you’ve crafted a subversive Australian pastoral tragedy which earns both its grief and its wonder. I wouldn’t gnaw the inside of your cheek or give a prophetic fuck about any quivering, feeble criticism dispatched your way: you’ve written something I think amounts to one of the best works of fiction this year, and you can only be accused of defying comfort: you are a mad one, Patrick, a real furious exponent of the word, an important scribe and a heartfelt moralist. I’m fortunate to know you, and share in the passion you transfer to page. As for the convergence of ideological & theological expression in the novel, from the glimmer of reincarnation (both literal/embodied and allegorical); the skeptical urgency, yearning for and reluctant dispassion with religious faith; the four-antlered eros/phileo/agape/storge love felt, fundamental obsession and distorted loyalty between Grey and Irene deepening the conflict apparent in the themes of possessing that which is immediately lost; the seeming vacuity of domestic space; the racial condescension intentionally represented towards the likes of Ook and Pos; the violence of wanting something, perhaps sacred, so much that it seeds ruination — I’m sure this all culminated to will unsympathetic fools into convulsions of critical wariness. But such feelings are cruel, lacking in foundation and blind to beauty. If you’ve frustrated anyone, you’ve moved them. That’s how I’d choose to view it. But it would be compromising and counter-intuitive to take anything expressed in this vein in the unsweetened guise of truth. Your book is more than any of this. It is a song, and they have discerned more rousing pastimes than to hear it. This is their inefficiency; not yours, and certainly not that of The Mary Smokes Boys.


Kirk A.C. Marshall


Filed under Australia, Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, Fiction, Kirk AC Marshall