I finally got to read a book recently. An actual book that wasn’t related to my academic ambitions. I had been hanging out to read an actual book for a few months. Even more frustrating, I had been hanging out to read a specific actual book – of which I’d been hearing no end of wonderful reviews.
So imagine my delight when I picked up the last copy of Benjamin Law’s The Family Law from the Readings shop at Melbourne’s State Library. Literally the last copy; the man that sold it to me said they had been flying out the door. Since reading it, I can understand why.
I was lucky enough to meet Law a few weeks ago. I’ve been reading his writing for years in frankie and The Big Issue magazines and more recently in the excellent literary journal Kill Your Darlings. So I did that awkward thing where you approach a person as if you are already friends—or is that just me? In any case, he was so charming and kind that it wasn’t awkward at all (for me, anyway). In fact, I developed a bro-crush on him, as in, I want to be related to him. And after reading his book I figure I probably could be.
Of course that’s stupid, I couldn’t actually be related to him, but humour me for a second; I too grew up in a migrant family, one of four kids (Benjamin is one of five). I too have an eccentric, superstitious mother and a father who is difficult to buy for and/or interact with. In fact, in every chapter of the book I was nodding knowingly, feeling an enormous sense of relief that someone out there, in the real world, had suffered similar insanities to me and had turned out okay. Better than okay; successful, relatively well-adjusted and generally brilliant! Hoorah!
The Family Law is a delightful ride. It is a collection of stories where Law lays himself bare on the pages—nothing seems out of bounds. The book covers many themes including death, family, religion, migration, sexuality and language. His wonderfully vivid mother is at the centre of many of his recollections, along with Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and the general awkwardness of youth. There are tears; some of laughter, some of heartbreak. The book isn’t in chronological order, so there is an excited anticipation at the start of each chapter; wondering where in the Benjamin Law time-line we are being taken. The anecdotes are so engaging you might imagine someone telling them at a dinner party – an articulate, engaging person who has a knack for adding humour with every tinge of sadness .
The picture that Law creates of his no-nonsense mother is so tangible it’s as if she’s sitting on the couch next to you, reading over your shoulder and asking you to pronounce certain words out loud. The book is full of punch-your-fist-in-the-air moments where Law just nails it in creating that one moment in time. Visits to theme parks, going on school camp, sibling rivalries and painful social situations; events that could be so ordinary are made new with Law’s biting humour and obvious affection for his dysfunctional family.
Since reading it, I have been telling all my friends to read it. Which is interesting, because I have a mixed-bag of friend-circles; the indie-cool kids, the ageing rock-pigs, the affluent Baby-Boomers, the disaffected gen-x’ers, the Bogans, the LOTEs (language other than English), the spoiled brats – but I have somehow managed to find something in this book that each of them would appreciate.
Law’s writing style is conversational and he has the rare talent of drawing you in to the story so that you are not merely observing but are traveling with him. Two of the stories have been included in The Best Australian Essays and Law can be heard reading Tone Deaf at paperradio.net.
Do yourself a favour and go have a sit-down with The Family Law.
Marian Blythe is a freelance writer, blogger and broadcaster. She is currently finishing her Honours year in Media Studies at La Trobe University. She also produces the podcasts for Triple R’s Breakfasters program. You can find her blogging at Screamedia and she can sometimes be heard on the Triple R graveyard roster.