Brilliant and hilarious, snippets of philosophy carrying you floating across the story.
It got off to a bit of a rocky start, with a wee bit confusing beginning. But this sets the tone for the rest of the work, madcap crazy philosophy adventures of Martin Dean, Jasper Dean (Martin’s son), and Terry Dean (Martin’s brother). Set in Australia with tiny pieces in Paris or Thailand, Martin’s story of growing up in a small bush town, being in a coma from age 4 to age 8, waking out of coma to meet his 4 year old brother Terry, seeing Terry excel in sports (which goes tragically wrong once Terry gets a knife in his leg defending Martin from bullies) then turn to a life of crime, seeing Terry begin to get bored with his two-bit hoodlums so Martin devises a plan to get a mentor for him at the local prison which was built by Martin’s father. Enter Harry, the prophetic prisoner who has done everything except rape or white collar crime. Harry bends Terry’s ear about how to go about the criminal lifestyle, do it democratically with no set leader for them to go after. Harry then summons Martin for further philosophizing. Martin creates the suggestion box for the town, placing in suggestions like creating an observatory on the hill, which they do.
Terry becomes a killer, murdering sportsmen who cheat. Eventually, he’s caught, imprisoned in his home town prison. Martin’s mom begins to poison him with rat poison fearing that he will leave her. The day Martin struggles away, a bush fire overtakes the town, burning the jail and his house, killing his entire family. He escapes to Paris, meets Astrid, fathers Jasper, meets Eddie the Thai protector who always secures jobs or money for him. Astrid blows herself up on a boat involved in gang warfare. Jasper and Martin head back to Australia. That’s only the first half.
I felt that it got a bit much in the last 100 pages (this is a 530 pager), things might have been wrapped up earlier. Not sure Terry needed to be reincarnated as Tim Lung, the secretive Thai businessman who had been funding Martin’s activities for awhile. Martin battles cancer, dies on the boat trying to sneak back into Australia. Jasper heaves his body into the sea, and begins his narrative from the immigrant prison he is thrust into upon arrival.
Martin, on seeing the universe during his coma:
I saw all the dawns come up too early and all the middays reminding you you’d better get a hurry on and all the dusks whisper “I don’t think you’re going to make it” and all the shrugging midnights say “Better luck tomorrow.” I saw all the hands that ever waved to a stranger thinking it was a friend. I saw all the eyes that ever winked to let someone know their insult was only a joke. I saw all the men wipe down toilet seats before urinating but never after. I saw all the lonely men stare at department store mannequins and think “I’m attracted to a mannequin. This is getting sad.” I saw all the love triangles and a few love rectangles and one crazy love hexagon in the back room of a sweaty Parisian cafe. I saw all the condoms put on the wrong way. I saw all the ambulance drivers on their off hours caught in traffic wishing there was a dying man in the backseat. I saw all the charity-givers wink at heaven. I saw all the Buddhists bitten by spiders they wouldn’t kill. I saw all the flies bang uselessly into the screen doors and all the fleas laughing as they rode in on pets. I saw all the broken dishes in all the Greek restaurants and all the Greeks thinking “Culture’s one thing, but this is getting expensive.” I saw all the lonely people scared by their own cats. I saw all the prams, and anyone who says all babies are cute didn’t see the babies I saw. I saw all the funerals and all the acquaintances of the dead enjoying their afternoon off work. I saw all the astrology columns predicting that one twelfth of the population of earth will be visited by a relative who wants to borrow money. I saw all the forgeries of great paintings but no forgeries of great books. I saw all the signs forbidding entrance and exit but none forbidding arson or murder. I saw all the carpets with cigarette burns and all the kneecaps with carpet burns. I saw all the worms dissected by curious children and eminent scientists. I saw all the polar bears and the grizzly bears and the koala bears used to describe fat people you just want to cuddle. I saw all the ugly men hitting on all the happy women who made the mistake of smiling at them. I saw inside all the mouths and it’s really disgusting in there. I saw all the bird’s eye views of all the birds who think humanity looks pretty active for a bunch of toilet heads…
At the observatory, observing the townsfolk, Martin sees:
People began with some marvelous understatements of the universe, such as “Pretty big, isn’t it?” But I think they were purposefully laconic. they were filled with awe and wonder, and like a dreamer who has woken but lies unmoving in bed tring to return to the dream, they didn’t want inadvertently to shake themselves awake. But then, slowly, they began to talk, and it wasn’t about the stars or their place in the universe. I listened with astonishment as they said things like
“I should spend more time with my son.”
“When I was young, I used to look up at the stars too.”
“I don’t feel loved. I feel liked.”
“I wonder why I don’t go to church anymore.”
“My children turned out differently than I expected. Taller, maybe.”
“I’d like to take a holiday with Carol, like we did when we were first married.”
“I don’t want to be alone anymore. My clothes smell.”
“I want to accomplish something.”
“I’ve gotten so lazy. I haven’t learned anything since I was at school.”
“I’m going to plant a lemon tree, not for me but for my children’s children. Lemons are the future.”
On Martin’s first date with Astrid, in Paris:
She asked me how tall I was. I shrugged this off w/ a sneer – every now & again someone asks me this asinine question & is flabbergasted that I don’t know. Why should I know? What for? Knowledge of your own height serves no useful purpose in our society other than to be able to answer that question.
It’s a shame you can’t go out and see people for just ten minutes. that’s all the human contact I need to carry me through life for three days– then I need ten minutes more. But you can’t invite someone over for ten minutes. They stay and stay and never leave, and I always have to say something jarring like “You go now.” For many years I tried the favorite, “I won’t keep you any longer,” or “I don’t want to take up any more of your time,” but that never worked. There are far too many people who don’t have anything to do and have nowhere to go and who would like nothing better than to squander their whole lives chatting.”