I’ve chosen a city I’ve never been to, but, because of the author’s books, I feel like I have: Sydney, Australia, as depicted in Melina Marchetta’s book, most recently, The Piper’s Son.
So, here is my review; and don’t forget to head over to Chasing Ray for the complete list of books in this Book City tour!
Do I double dip? Yes, I double dip. I reviewed The Piper’s Son in February; and just listened to it on audio. So, this is the audio review.
The Plot: For those who don’t click through to my original review, two years ago Tom Finch Mackee had it all: a girl he’d spent one and a half wonderful nights with; good friends; a large, loving family. Now, he’s pursuing oblivion through drugs and alcohol and hasn’t spoken to family and friends in months.
Two years ago, his Uncle Joe was alive. Two years ago, Joe hadn’t been blown up on his way to work. Two years ago, the family hadn’t buried an empty coffin.
Can Tom find his way — if not back to who he was two years ago, can he find his way to a Tom who doesn’t hide from the grief and pain of Joe’s loss, and his family splintering, and of messing things so badly with Tara Finke that she and their mutual friends can barely say hello to him?
The Good: While, for me, Tom’s emotional journey of putting his life back together, still broken but together, is what resonates with me. For others who, say, may want more action? Here’s the pitch: Two years ago Tom had a one and a half night stand with a girl he loved and after, treated her so badly that not only won’t she talk to him, she has left the country. When you’ve treated someone horribly, is it possible to fix it?
Finney’s Australian accent emphasizes the setting of The Piper’s Son; the slang, the city, even the music. It’s the city setting — Sydney, Australia — that made this my pick for this One Shot – Cities tour. The Piper’s Son was on the shortlist for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, (alas, it didn’t win)and their judges comments explain perfectly why I picked this for its city setting: “This is the eagerly awaited sequel to Saving Francesca, and Marchetta creates a fresh and vibrant story that focuses on Sydney’s inner city suburbs and the life of a young and out of work musician, Tom Mackee. Homeless and haunted by the death of his favourite uncle in a terrorist bombing in London, Tom desperately seeks to put his life back together by re-establishing ties with his aunt, his friends, and his long separated father. For him, it is a long and very hard road. Marchetta’s insightful narration and wonderful cast of characters take her readers on an always fascinating ride through the gritty, pulsating streets of the city’s inner west. The story culminates in an emotional and memorable conclusion.” More on the inner city inspiration at this interview with Marchetta.
Tom’s parents and their friends made a deliberate decision to remain in Sydney’s inner city instead of move out to the suburbs, a decision led by his father, Dom: “All the people they wanted in their lives lived within a ten-mile radius. Her brother Dom had started the vow of not moving away from each other just because they’d be able to afford bigger houses in the outer suburbs. “Let’s stick together, no matter how poky our houses are,” he had made them all promise. “Better to be able to pick up each other’s kids and hang out together than have bigger backyards and rumpus rooms.”
The neighborhood, the Sydney neighborhood, is as much a character in The Piper’s Son as any person. So much so, that someone later observes that Tom himself has never moved out of it, always living within a few blocks of friends and family. “You could draw a line around the parameters of your world, Tom.”
Things I noticed about The Piper’s Son this time around: the craft of the book, how it’s all put together, how Marchetta weaves the past and the present together, and her use of different points of view to tell the whole story.
Coming of age books are usually about independence; in the hands of another, The Piper’s Son would be look at how people failed Tom, cast those adults as villains, and ended with Tom in a new place, with new friends, and a new direction in life. Marchetta recognizes that life is messier and more complex than that; people failed Tom, and each other, because each, individually, was so torn apart and hurt by Joe’s death that they could barely take care of themselves let alone anyone else. The Piper’s Son is about the role of community in one’s life; for Tom to mature, to grow, he has to once again become part of a community of friends and family. The goal is healthy interdependence, not independence. The friends and family that grow around the Finch Mackee family is so wonderful, funny, and loving, that even though sadness and hurt and grief have touched them, and none of them have had an easy time, I still want to go to their homes, hang out over a bottle of wine, laugh as the children play in the garden. If I’m every in Australia, I want to walk these Sydney streets.
Yes, this remains a Favorite Book Read in 2011.
And yes, I listened to this on the way to and from work and cried every day.