The Family Law

The Family LawI should probably issue a disclaimer that I not only know this author, I consider him one of my best friends. I should probably also disclose that my brother rates a mention within the book’s chapters and I get one at the end (at least, I think it’s me). But I would also like to say that while I’m biased, I have a very good reason for being so: the author is the incredibly talented Benjamin Law; the book, his memoir, The Family Law.

You might have already encountered Ben’s work in the likes of The Monthly, The Big Issue, Qweekend, and frankie, or heard him on ABC Radio where he was recently in conversation with the delightful Richard Fidler. And now, courtesy of his debut book, you (and I) get to read more about his childhood, his family, and in particular his one-of-a-kind mother, Jenny.

It would be easy to categorise Ben’s book as a David Sedaris-style book of short stories that will make you cack yourself on public transport. And, while that is true of The Family Law and the two writers have a lot in common, I’d argue that Ben’s writing has an extra depth.

The Family Law is incredibly funny, but it’s also incredibly poignant. It aligns upbeat stories about his aspirations to be an actor on Home and Away and how his father doesn’t like thongs because they ‘split the toe’ with heartbreaking stories about his parents’ divorce and his mother’s miscarriage (Ben is one of five children, but his mother was pregnant six times).

I absolutely loved the story of Ben’s own birth, which was speedy and which saw his mother in agony in the backseat of the car as Ben’s workaholic father drove her to the hospital. She was relieved to find that they had arrived, but quickly realised instead that he had stopped in at the restaurant at which he worked because he was hungry and didn’t like hospital food.

The chapter in which his mother discusses vaginas with unequalled frankness is completely and utterly priceless and rather than quote it here I’d simply encourage you to read it in full, graphic detail. I also loved the stories of how his family, one of the first Chinese families to settle on the Sunshine Coast, used to try to seem as ocker Australian and un-touristy as they could at theme parks so as to differentiate themselves from Asian tourists.

But I was absolutely floored by the stories of how some of his relatives were deported from Australia, how Ben came out to his mother, as well as the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of his grandfather, his father’s father. All three stories speak volumes about the wrenching outcomes of our immigration policies, about father-son relationships, and about the complexities of growing up Asian and gay (or as Ben terms it, ‘gaysian’) in Australia, and have stayed with me for the weeks since finishing the book.

Of course, I am undeniably biased that The Family Law is a book worth rushing online to buy and I won’t try to convince you otherwise. But I will point to the fact that this is a man so popular and whose book was so highly sought after he had to have two sold-out book launches in his adopted hometown of Brisbane. I might be biased, but it seems a lot of other people are too.

The Family Law is available at this good online bookstore now.

Books Before Undies

The Family LawFaced with the very real question of what you would take to a deserted island (as by the time you’ll be reading this I’ll be on my way to spend four days sans phone- or internet-access on a boat and almost-deserted islands in the Whitsundays*), I’m once again struck by the paralysis I was when I played this game in primary school.

For while everyone else came up with practical and essentially life-saving ideas—the likes of which included: ‘I’ll take a Swiss Army Knife and will be able to shimmy up the coconut tree and cut down coconuts and spear fish with my lightning-quick reflexes and trusty 5cm blade and corkscrew’—my answer was always: ‘I’ll take a book’.

Admittedly I’d probably die of dehydration and sunburn before I got to the last page, but life-or-death practicalities aside, the concept of me, a book, a beach, and no interruptions is nothing short of bliss. Given that I’ll be on a boat a lot of this time, it’ll be bliss on a boat. But that’s equally inviting and the fact is that the main issue that I’m facing is how to overcome my number one rule (and error): books before undies.

Bitter ChocolateMy logical brain tells me that I will be able to—at best—complete two or three books in four days and probably a lot less given that I’m going on a boat with friends and there will be spectacular coral and aquatic life to marvel at. But my books-before-undies brain tells me that I cannot take anything less than seven books and that such necessities as undies will be turfed from luggage before I’ll take any book out of said bag.

I know this is a rookie mistake. In fact, it’s one I’ve made before, the fallout from which saw me trying to find a 24-hour laundromat in a foreign country in the wee hours of the morning while lugging around tomes of books on my back that I didn’t have time to read.

But to choose just two or three books from the mini mountain of a book stockpile I have on my bedside table? That’s like being asked to choose your favourite…well, something…from your list of favourite somethings.

The Birth WarsAnyway, in spite of my itching to read such worthy and weighty books as:

  • Mary-Rose MacColl’s The Birth Wars, an investigation of the battle between the ‘organics’ and the ‘mechanics’ or natural and interventionist birth practitioners, inspired by the tragic and unnecessary death of a baby in Brisbane
  • Carol Off’s Bitter Chocolate, an examination of the horrific practices that occur in the nations that produce the cocoa that makes up our so-cheap, so-yummy chocolates

I’ve at least been clever enough to opt for some more entertaining, lose-yourself-in-their-pages holiday reading:

Three Cups of TeaBy the time I end up leaving, there’ll be one more book and a few less pair of undies in my bag, but I’m completely ok with that. See you in four book-filled days with some fresh book reviews and some lobster-red sunburned skin.

* I’m not gloating, honest. It’s the first holiday I’ve had in forever, I promise.