If nothing else, one thing guaranteed in any Wayne Macauley work of fiction is that its surface is just that: a vehicle inside of which the real messages are carried. What makes Macauley’s novels exceptional is these messages are always vital — they are the messages we’ve been asking ourselves for millennia, in one way or another — but also the surface story-vehicle that carries these messages is compelling in its own right.
Think of The Cook, a tragic tale of a budding chef gone full feral, or Caravan Story, with its ghettoised artists just waiting for society to accept them, or the hopelessly hopeful frontierspeople in Blueprint for a Barbed-Wire Canoe trying to build a community against all odds.
His new novel, Some Tests, is ostensibly the account of one woman’s journey through the labyrinth of modern medical care. It takes place in a surreal suburban and then rural setting where vague specialists continue to refer her on, and on again, and on again, without revealing what is going on or even what may be wrong with her. This book is concerned with the inevitable loss that results from assuming responsibility for anyone’s life, especially your own.
All of Macauley’s critically underappreciated novels are often and largely about the battle of a single individual against the absolute impossibility of trying to take control of life. In Some Tests we are continually reminded that the modern world of endless choice is one giant illusion. Embracing these seeming choices, seeing them as a kind of salvation, is in fact just climbing into moment-to-moment imprisonment, making it easier for the jailer — that is, yourself.
The medical tests in the novel — the medical tests we all know, the ones readily available to us whenever we may feel askew — act as an allegory for the questions of existence, the tests of spirituality, of science, of philosophy. “The tests available these days are infinite and it is reasonable to expect that a person in your situation … will take up our offer of more, clinging perhaps to the hope that the next will provide the answers.”
One of the many doctors encountered puts it thus: “If no comfort is found in the next test, or the one after, how far do we go? To infinity?”
This same doctor, whose name is Panchal but we can call him Macauley, asks us directly: “How far do we go? When do we stop? The more faults we look for, the more we find. Deciding whether to have one more test and hold to the slim possibility of an answer — this is a problem that has grown exponentially with the many tests now available to us.”
If there’s a test really worth taking, a choice really worth making, it’s to read Some Tests, and all of Macauley’s writing, and see where you end up.
Steven Lang’s Hinterland has much in common with Macauley’s previous novel, Demons, which also hosts a bunch of variously immoral adults we are forced us to watch in real time as they pontificate, bicker and flirt. And Hinterland, like all Australian novels of its ilk, is drawing easy, albeit wrong, comparisons with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, simply because of Some Tests By Wayne Macauley Text Publishing, 256pp, $29.99 Hinterland By Steven Lang UQP, 346pp, $29.95 Datsunland By Stephen Orr Wakefield Press, 312pp, $29.95
Datsuns are ‘just like William and Charlie: plainlooking cars that just keep going’, Stephen Orr has said of the characters in his latest work, Datsunland