Friday, 7 February 2014

Reality by Ray Glickman

In today's publishing climate, consumers are increasingly confronted by writers who are themselves as much products for the buying as their books.  Against such a backdrop, it was extremely refreshing to witness Ray Glickman launching his book at the Fremantle Arts Centre, not with some preprepared speech designed to make the audience *like* him and therefore feel onside about buying his work, but with the intent of celebrating the momentous occasion that was putting his first published book out there into the world.  In Glickman's words- indeed in his countenance- I saw a joy, and a relief, at the figurative birthing of a brainchild several years in the making.

Reality would by no means have been an easy book to write either.  It is a complicated book which transposes the form and structure of a reality television show onto the lives of six ordinary people, all under the control of a bored Melbournian businessman who is not given a name.  Glickman stated that he hoped his book would be read on two levels- on one as a pisstake; and on the second, deeper level, as an analysis of personal responsibility, morality and ethics.  Well.  He's certainly given us that.

I am most struck as a reader by the scope of this ambitious idea.  The reality television model does not necessarily lend itself to narrative structure, with the idea being that the show is a social experiment, where the outcome is unknown.  Glickman gives order to his book by structuring it in stages as the tangle grows more and more complicated.  Initially, we see the six people meeting.  This is Reality Conceived.  Mario, the almost stereotypical loan-shark meets up with sexy, predatory lawyer Kathleen. Garry the handyman begins work on survivor of the Nazi era, Hannah's, home renovations.  And Dr Robert performs a gynaecological examination on sad, dissatisfied housewife, Julia.  In this phase, the people seem 2D, cardboard.  We've met them before, they don't surprise us.  The man-eating lawyer woman appears in most American dramas, the Mario character could be summed up by perhaps every role Vince Colossimo has ever played.  But we read on.  Something tells us that this is too simple, and that all will be revealed in time.  And we are right.

When the unnamed Narrator selects their six names from the phone book, intending to creative a reality game of his own, my first thought was, hang on they've all already met.  But it soon became clear to me that the thread of the story had jumped back in time.  The seeming coincidences had first been shown as the players saw them.  Now we saw them from the point of view of the puppet master.  He carefully infiltrates their lives, learns their problems, and brings them together, and the story begins.

Ultimately, the book sets out to ask the reader who is responsible for what unfolds?  Is it the narrator or is it the characters themselves?  Personally, I have to come down on the side of the individuals... the narrator, charming as he supposedly is, can only do so much.  He refers the characters to each others' businesses, but he does not employ any underhand tactics in order to cause them all to sleep with each other, or steal from each other, or ruin each others' lives.  In fact, up to a point, he only wants them to get involved in each others' lives superficially.  But the characters themselves don't fully master this concept, barring perhaps Hannah, who knows that no one caused her to set the trap for Garry but herself... this plot point even surprised the narrator.

At times this book is confusing, and it is peppered with cliched turns of phrase in almost dramatic monologue style chunks of prose, but beneath these (and they're all matters of personal taste) Reality is a complex and thought provoking book and would make a great read for a book club, or for the discerning reader with an interest in politics or psychology.

I give this book three stars.

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