Fyfe, Alan. T. Yarraville: Transit Lounge, 2022. RRP: $29.99, 232pp, ISBN: 9780648414049.
The voice from nowhere said a word, but it was thinner than the whistle of air between the corrugated iron and the floorboards—unintelligible. It was a long word, maybe ten thousand vowels, and it faded completely before the final consonant. (146)
Alan Fyfe’s novel T follows Timothy Ami, or ‘T’, as he attempts to fill the shoes of the recently departed Gulp, a meth dealer and punk-poet in the Peel/Binjareb region.
When T first visits Cardo, in order to buy wholesale meth, he is put to somewhat of a test: Cardo compares him to Gulp. However, after T states that he ‘never wrote a poem’, Cardo replies: ‘You’re a fucken liar. Everyone wrote a poem in their fucken bedroom, alone and crying like a fucken stabbed rabbit. Everyone did it!’ (50).
T seems to succeed, passing off a punk song by local band Meat Lunch as his own. His performance earns him the title ‘New Gulp’, and he is given meth to sell on. Fyfe here draws an apt parallel between the delivery of drugs and artistic delivery: both are acts that require absolute commitment. However, a tension remains between T and Cardo: it is never clear whether T has been accepted as an artist, or as a dealer.
Later in the novel, Cardo’s apparent commitment to artistic integrity becomes connected to violence: ultimately threatening T’s life over art, ‘love languages’ and ‘personal growth’ (198–99) After T finally performs an original, Cardo declares, ‘That song was good, but you’re a fake’ (198). As T is nothing like Gulp—who was generous, honest and gave without expecting in return—T is banished from his role as a dealer.
Unsure of where else to go, T turns up at Shaun Elgin’s, rumoured to be the home of a cult where meth users go to get clean. The truth is much more banal: Elgin shrugs as people keep showing up at his property where he grows vegetables and practises martial arts. Here, T approaches the mysterious core of art, songs and making things, and meets Irma, the lead singer of Meat Lunch.
Irma has lived both as a person who ‘never could stop making things’ (220), and as a person who has used meth. At Elgin’s, she lives in something like exile, welcoming people who come with ‘things they can’t put in a word’ (220), and so make something instead. Irma now makes wood-things rather than word-things: ‘I’m not good at words anymore. I can’t say what this place is about. I make things now, only things. I don’t make word things. I don’t do songs’ (218). Such meditations on artistic process are not didactic, but rather are open to strangeness and uncertainty. Fyfe does not attempt to theorise how or why one makes art or does drugs, or what therapeutic value such experiences might provide. Instead, silence and mystery, and perhaps a shrug, sit at the core of both experiences. No-one knows ‘the cook’ who makes the drugs: he inhabits an uncharted territory, a silent centre, where it seems that usual rules and laws don’t apply. Likewise, in the world of art or making-things, a kind of intellectual knowing or mapping of experience does not apply: at the core is something unknowable.
At one point, T asks Gulp’s ghost about how names are made, and receives a riddle-like answer: ‘You take the word from the start of the story or the word from the end, but never both and never the middle, and you let that one word stand for all the words’ (216). Art, a story or a word, might know where it comes from, or where it’s going, but perhaps it can’t know both at the same time. That would mean the middle is mapped, when space needs to be left open, because art must be receptive to the unknown.
T is the start of a name, the beginning of a story, a letter that might stand for the uncertain process of making—making word-things, wood-things, song-things—and the uncertain process of becoming. T the novel inhabits a space of receptiveness and uncertainty, allowing odd moments that might otherwise escape one’s attention: a body-bag is dropped by paramedics, a testicle slips out from beneath a man’s shorts, bodies fall from the sky and a Shetland pony tears across a park at dawn. The stubby-legged pony is a symbol of ‘wilful freedom’ (207), and Fyfe’s novel is too: a regional story, set in a particular time and place, which wanders a path it creates as it steps. It could be a story about somebody, anybody. But equally, it could only be about Timothy Ami, in the Peel region, as he drives his Baleno along Yunderup Road.
Mel Hall is a writer and musician based in Walyalup (Fremantle). Her first novel, The Little Boat on Trusting Lane, was published by Fremantle Press in 2021. Her shorter fiction has been published by Westerly, Ginninderra Press, Meniscus and other Australian journals.