The nine flaws of affection
Peter Farrar feeds words onto the page like a priest delivers the Eucharist. Each word is selected specifically to add to the arch, and just enough words are used to reach resolution. Peter Farrar, as the medium of the stories, has removed all unnecessary words, including some personal pronouns, leaving us with nine portraits of debilitation delivered with extreme priority. Each story has proven itself among the best literary journals in the country, including Overland, Wet Ink, Etchings and Page Seventeen.
The nine flaws are detailed in the stories of the collection, nine portraits of the seriously disenfranchised, victims of loss either through war, betrayal or simply, life.
War takes its toll in ‘Anzac Day’ where the true courage faced by veterans nearing the end of their lives is conveyed, not the ‘John Wayne saves the day’ type tale but the real anguish of those sent to their possible deaths by absent leaders. A grandfather recalls his time to his adult grandson, Farrar draws parallels of fear within the two lives lived fifty years apart and under different circumstances, one struggling with the memory of war, the other facing the difficulties of life.
‘The First Casualty’ is a returned service man, or rather, mostly returned. Missing his legs and one arm he lies in bed building up the courage to ask his father to help him die. The father acts as a representation of society’s inability to face the consequences of war, being so uncomfortable around his returned son that he needs scotch to be able to face his him.
‘Journey With My Father’ is a frank and honest story of a man who’d grown up with his father missing in action in Vietnam. As the father is found and his remains are repatriated any hopes of closure are dashed as new wounds are opened.
These stories go beyond the typically didactic ‘war is hell’ as they examine the true costs of war as borne by the individuals effected. Costs that remain long after the last shot is fired.
Betrayal is examined in ‘Comas, Two Thirds of the Truth’ and ‘Dust’. In ‘Comas’ we are placed within the frustrated head of a coma patient listening to family members in his hospital room but unable to speak. His story is only shared within his thoughts as his parents argue and his brother threatens him to remain quiet.
‘Two Thirds of the Truth’ starts as a road story then seamlessly twists into a tale of infidelity. Two men drive away from Melbourne seeking new lives. The driver is fleeing an unfaithful wife. An accident leaves the passenger unconscious, within his wallet is a photo of the driver’s ex-wife. The driver repays the betrayal by setting the scene as if the passenger was driving alone. The passenger is left to wake in utter desolation and face the consequences from which he was attempting to drive away.
‘Dust’ is a bluesy story of how a strong man can be brought to an emotional bomb state by the seemingly unrequited love of a woman. The saddest, and as such my favourite pieces of the collection regard losses caused by the transpiration of life. An old man relives his marriage through his paintings in ‘The Twenty Faces of Lorraine’. Farrar sketches with words the shaky pencil strokes of a husband doing one last drawing of his wife after her death and recounting the tales behind the other portraits hanging from his nursing home room walls.
‘When I Sang’ takes us into the ‘brotherhood bin of single people… all dumped in here so others can sort through and pick out something they like.’ Dreams of a young man’s singing career are reclaimed in a small bar after being suspended for mortgage and day job.
‘Affection’ is a story of loss and loneliness, not just because of the death of a mother but a whole sad life of isolation with Eleanor Rigby overtones.
Simply, The Nine Flaws of Affection is a fantastic collection. Peter Farrar manages to perform autopsies on ordinary characters, revealing the incredible sadness that thrives within, making their tormented lives extraordinary. I know these stories will haunt me until I read them again, and again.
This review originally appeared at Page Seventeen.