Award-winning Australian author, Archimede Fusillo delves deep into what it is to be a man in his latest coming-of-age novel for young adults, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night.
The story follows the journey of Primo as he attempts to navigate his way though his final year of school with an emotionally brittle mother, a father suffering from dementia, a troubled brother and a demanding older girlfriend. When Primo crashes his father’s prized Fiat Bambino he’s forced to make some difficult decisions. Without strong role models, his choices are dubious and ultimately lead to more trouble. Primo discovers that there’s more to being a man than just posturing as one.
JF: Congratulations on your new book, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night, Archimede Fusillo. You have carved a niche in the YA market writing about boys seeking an identity. Can you explain the motivation for this?
AF: I have always thought that boys and young men were more than simply the sum of their adventures. It seems to me that too often males in general are portrayed by the mass media as being one dimensional, with little to draw upon apart from angst, self-destruction and a high tolerance for drink and mayhem.
All I ever set out to do was explore what I saw was the deeper more emotional, more humane side of the male gender. I was brought up surrounded by boys, young men and older men who were not carbon copies of one another.
What spoke to me was the breadth and depth of dignity, a sense of caring, and yes, even a degree of self-loathing that permeated the life of boys seeking to discover what it was that made them men, what the parameters and boundaries and expectations were and are that help define one’s sense of selfhood.
JF: There are some deeply flawed male characters in Dead Dog in the Still of the Night. Is this how you see society in general?
AF: Being flawed is a human not a “male” condition. Perhaps it’s just that with the male propensity to mask hurt and pain and sorrow and grief under masks of macho bravado, the flaws are more highlighted than might otherwise be the case.
I’m not a sociologist, or even an anthropologist. I don’t have answers to why some people – male and female, are flawed more obviously than others. All I know is that the machinations set in motion when people seek to hide their flaws, or cannot control them, make for powerful human stories.
In Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night, Primo’s mother is flawed too. Otherwise how to explain her inability (unwillingness?) for so many years to make a stand against all the emotional damage her husband brings to bear upon her family.
The male characters in the novel are flawed, but not damaged beyond redemption – at least not Primo. Their flaws are compounded, perhaps even brought about by, their inability to put others ahead of themselves. It takes a very strong sense of other, a willingness to look at the world through another’s eyes, and walk about in their shoes, to be able to identify clearly one’s own shortcomings. And perhaps this is the greatest flaw of all of the males in this novel – their inability to reflect upon another, let alone their own actions before those same actions bring about dire consequences.
JF: As with your other YA novels, family is at the centre of this story, rather than a peer group. Why do you focus on family?
AF: Family is the centre of the world I know and have grown up in. Italians see family as the core of who they are – as a race, as a nation. It is inbred in me to believe in the sanctity of family, and therefore in the power of family to both destroy and create, to love and to loath, to offer and to take. A peer group is by and large an artificial construct that exists outside of bloodlines and blood obligations. The most fascinating, the most powerful, the most engaging stories often begin with the individual caught within the web of the family-its expectations, its dramas, its demands, and its rewards.
With this in mind, why wouldn’t I focus on the pull and push of family life when I want to give my characters the motivation for questioning everything they have come to believe about themselves and the world around them.
JF: The novel’s main character, Primo, is forced to make choices without the benefit of strong male role models. What impact does this have on him and how do you see this playing out more generally in society?
AF: It is a natural aspect of growing up that we look to others for some signposting about where we are at any stage of our lives. Every civilization has rites and rituals where boys look up to their elders for guidance, and the role of the older male role model can’t be overestimated. Choices made without guidance can’t be measured until after the event, so role models can act as a sounding board, helping us avoid some of the pitfalls in life.
Primo’s choices are made according to his own still very limited view and understanding of the world and how it operates – so there is ample room for him to misread cues, not least of all those that require a maturity beyond his youthful years to fully appreciate. Of course he will make mistakes. How big those mistakes are, and how they will impact on him and his family is at the core of the novel’s plot.
JF: As a father, how do you handle the job of role model?
AF: All I can do, all I have ever tried to do is listen, try not to prejudge-and more significantly, try to remember what it was like to be a boy and then a young man.
JF: What’s next for you?
AF: I am working on a new YA novel about young love, poor decisions, and the comedy of being in a big, loud, unashamedly loving family-unsettled by the oddball, unsettling, blended family that moves in next door!
Oh – and Josie Montano and I have co-authored a YA novel titled Veiled Secrets which has been bought by the US publisher Solstice – due out in hard and electronic copy early 2015.
JF: Thanks for visiting, Archimede. Good luck with Dead Dog In the Still Of The Night and your upcoming books.
Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.