I read all of Nick Earls’ books when I was in high school, and laughed so hard that Mum used to come into my room to see if I was okay. Richard hitting someone in the head with shoes on escalators, getting pissed at the local Thai restaurant and singing Nick Cave at the end of the table, and Dan being chased by geese at UQ. Seventeen and finishing high school, the stories were of a Brisbane I was yet to know but that I longed to be a part of: share houses, beer in the fridge, takeaway, and romantic pining.
In Earls’ latest novel, The Fix, we meet Josh Lang. Having returned from London to his old home of Brisbane, Josh is living in a flat in West End with his mum’s camping stove. He eats far too many fortune cookies (continuing the low-life biscuit trend of Zigzag Street‘s Richard, who lived on Tim Tams), often has breakfast around 11 at Checocho on Hardgrave Road, and is still getting over a girl from his past who fucked his best friend.
Out of charity Josh’s brother gets him work with a law firm in the city, and Josh finds himself tangled in a detective media-spin and Gold Coast-flavoured scandal. Josh’s job is to manage the media for the law company, whose worker Ben has won a bravery award for saving his colleagues during an office siege. Ben is also the best friend who fucked Josh’s now ex-girlfriend. During their week-long stint of interviews and magazine shoots, all highlighting Ben’s bravery, a little too much comes out of the woodwork for the law firm and Josh is left wondering what the real story behind the bravery medal is all about. Woven amongst all of this, is Josh’s current love interest who comes in the form of Hayley, a local stripper.
The Fix is similar to earlier works of Nick Earls’ in some ways, and very different in others. Josh is very much like the other awkward young men we meet in previous books of Earls’. But instead of finding himself in a student-centric problem, Josh is caught up in a strange detective story. On one hand we’re tickled with aspects of Earls earlier novels, the quick and amusing dialogue and self-deprecating protagonist, but on the other it is a break with the past – Earls trying a new genre in the form of a con narrative that carries itself clumsily, and yet is very entertaining.
This dual left me with a strange taste in my mouth. I never laughed quite as hard as I did in his earlier books; it’s like Earls is caught between the ‘old stuff’, and the ‘new stuff’. He occupies such a special place in Brisbane, and indeed Australian writing, of warmth and wit and someone who brought a voice to student life in the 90s. I think this in turn makes it difficult for Earls to write differently from what he is famous for. So we’re served up with some touches of his legacy in the form of our main character Josh, but pasted into a new genre.
I do take my hat off to Nick Earls for trying something different from his old work. Overall I enjoyed The Fix – it took me to and from work on the tram very quickly, and I looked forward to getting back on again after my shifts to read some more.
Just before I go, I’d like to share my favourite line from the book. This comes from Haley the stripper, told to Josh on a balcony in Surfers Paradise, ‘Okay, kiss me. Kiss me the way people kiss in a world where no money changes hands and they just have to do it.’ I personally quite liked this, but reading it out to my housemates, they recoiled.