Evil lurks under the surface.
The Golden Boys
Sonya Hartnett’s third novel for adults is perfectly formed and utterly compelling, an unflinching and disquieting work from one of Australia’s finest writers.
Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian live in a world of shiny, new things – skateboards, slot cars, train sets and even the latest BMX. Their affluent father, Rex, has made sure that they’ll be the envy of the new, working-class suburb they’ve moved to.
But underneath the surface of the perfect family, is there something unsettling about the Jensons? To the local kids, Rex becomes a kind of hero, but Colt senses there’s something in his father that could destroy their fragile new lives.
A book that slowly draws you into its grasp into a time of childhood innocence, of BMX bikes and playing in the local storm water drain, of BBQ’s with the neighbours… a time when kids could be adventurers and start to develop their own identity and work out their place in the world. However all is not quite what it seems, the story told through the eyes of the children in the two families that are spotlighted in this narrative are wise for their age but have not yet learnt how to deal with their wisdom. We watch them struggle to cope with realisations that their family is not quite like everyone else’s and that feelings of love and hate are not mutually exclusive within the family unit.
The story opens with a display of parental teasing and Colt clearly sees the action for what it really is – a display of power over, her reflects; “There’s always some small cruelty, an unpleasant little hoop to be crawled through before what’s good may begin; here is the gift, but first you must guess its colour.” And so even at this early point in the novel Hartnett foreshadows the power plays that will form the crux of this story, power over and manipulation form the structure this narrative is welded to.
This is a finely drawn picture of life in the 70’s in Australian suburbia that does not skimp on domestic detail and family dysfunction. Issues that are “family secrets” are explored and laid bare. I think one of the reasons I felt drawn to this story aside from the poignant characterisations was the ability this narrative had to take me back to my own childhood, I too was a teenager in the 70’s and found life not always that easy. I could empathise with the main characters. I could relate to these times.
This is a disquieting read. The conclusion is confronting.