The Duty to Die Cheaply – Peter Goldsworthy

02/04/2011 at 12:03 PM (Australian Literature, Books, Short Stories) (, , , , , )

What do you think the worst case scenario would be on a flight that faced no crash disaster? Airline food has its negative points when flying economy but significant steps are being taken by at least some airline carriers to address this deficiency. As the admin of this blog explains in their article, our perceptions of the saltiness and sweetness of food are affected on a flight by white noise. Identification of a suspicious object that might be harmless also may give some passengers cause for alarm. In Peter Goldsworthy’s short story given an attention-grabbing title, The Duty to Die Cheaply, his protagonist faces a dilemma which I hope to never encounter on a long plane journey; imagine enduring sitting with a corpse!

Written from the perspective of an irritated doctor whose field has little to do with patient examination,  he recites the trials and tribulations imposed on him by the deceased passenger. The tone of the narrator clearly expresses he feels injured at the indignity forced upon him due to his occupation. While unwillingly accommodating the desires of the airline’s purser, he takes it on to be as irksome as he can for the duration of the flight which makes for some amusing reading.

Photo of Plane in Flight

Curious after my first introduction to this novel situation, I did some research on what measures are enforced if this were to actually happen and if this had ever occurred. My search unearthed the following information:

  • British Airways reported there were 10 deaths each year during flights from a total of 36 million passengers.
  • Singapore Airlines has introduced ‘corpse cupboards’. If there is no row of empty seats for use, the locker is used. There is also the possibility that any spare vacant restroom might be used.
  • If it is a short domestic flight, planes may divert for a while.  Technically by law, passengers who have passed on cannot be declared dead in the sky and is regarded as indisposed until the plane lands on the ground.

I know this is rather morbid subject matter but if you are fascinated , here are some interesting stories about corpses on planes:

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American Dreams – Peter Carey

02/02/2011 at 9:29 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Short Stories) (, , , )

Mr. Gleason, a ‘small meek man with rimless glasses’, is the title character of this particular short story but the largest impact he has on his small country town only surfaces after his death. Told from the perspective of a young resident who has since grown older and wiser, it starts with this gem of an opening line, ‘No one can, to this day, remember what it was we did to offend him.’

Old man with bicycle photo

Copyright: LoveToKnow Corp.

Initially the town is described as a nondescript, ordinary place in a little valley where people use it as ‘somewhere on the way to somewhere else’.  So all of its residents dream of  the big city, of wealth, modern houses and motor cars. The father of our narrator calls these ambitions, American Dreams and thus the story by  author Peter Carey (Oscar & Lucinda, Bliss, Parrot & Olivier in America) derives its title.

We learn after his retirement, Mr. Gleason starts to build a wall around a two-acre plot up on Bald Hill. This does not please the townspeople because the wall being erected blocked the view of the town and he does not bother to explain his reasons.

When Mr Gleason passes away, the walls are torn down by the Chinese labourers who were originally hired to build it. The revelation inside excites the town until they realise it also has the ability to expose their secrets. But they are thwarted in their desire when Bald Hill is declared a tourist attraction.

This works to the benefit of the town for a while and people  regard Mr. Gleason in a new light as they prosper. Then the long awaited Americans arrive . Life  goes on as usual but the Americans keep coming as people start to realise their once longed for dreams are quite different in their obtained reality.

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Home – Lahrissa Behrendt

02/01/2011 at 5:52 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Nostalgia, Politics, Short Stories) (, , , , , , )

Larissa Behrendt is a Eualeyai and Kamillaroi woman who decided to become a lawyer at the tender age of eleven when her Indigenous father found his mother’s removal certificate. This poignant and touching story titled Home about Garibooli, a naive young Aboriginal girl who is displaced from her society to an alien Western world, tells us subtly how advantage is taken of her childhood innocence.

Aboriginal art

Copyright: Mudjile Mime

Garibooli, after being taken from her people is put to work in the mansion of the Howard family under the name, Elizabeth . The domestic servitude encumbered upon her during her youth is exploitation enough but worse follows when Mr. Howard begins to pay her flattering attention. Her ignorance and lack of education makes the resulting consequences ultimately tragic.

The story is interspersed with comparisons of Indigenous traditions and Western culture. Highlighted is the friendship between Xiao-ying Chan (Helen Chan to white people) and Garibooli (Elizabeth to white people), her cordial relationship between the strict but kindly housekeeper Miss Grainger and the perpetual annoyance of Mrs Howard when she tries her best striving to get praise for a job well done. Imposition of barriers created by the inability to communicate is well articulated within this tale. The author neatly ties in the impact inflicted on Garibooli by the separation from her family through indicating her conflicting desire to please the Howard household while showing her discontent through nostalgic, contemplative reflections.

The story appears to indirectly comment on the plight segregation had forced on the protagonist since in Australia, similar conditions were faced by many other young Aboriginal girls when oppression against the indigenous people were rife. Prejudice held against this native community has lessened considerably with the passage of time and the public apology but politics and the current legal system still has a big part to play in improving conditions for our indigenous citizens. If you did not know about the Stolen Generations, you might find some enlightening information within this fact sheet.

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The Sandfly Man – Matthew Condon

01/31/2011 at 7:26 AM (Australian Literature, Nostalgia, Short Stories) (, , , , )

I have discovered short stories are something I  put by the wayside unless they are the sort written by Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer. Thinking it is time I should end this discrimination against the poor genre which is overlooked, I have opened myself to reading and reviewing an Australian short story per day for just this week. We will see how long I manage to keep it up!


Copyright: Franco Vogt/CORBIS

The Sandfly Man by Matthew Condon is a short story about convictions that spring up and take precedence  in the innocence of childhood; he expresses with convincing imagery of the pesticide man of the park how fears that inspire terror from back then can remain with us until our transition into adulthood. His reflective glimpses of  how mundane our life can be in the world of the beach caravan park as a home away from home is insightful in its banality.

Queensland in his idyllic narrative setting of Tallebudgera Creek Caravan Park is described so well you cannot help but feel through how he radiates the hot, sticky feeling of summer and the pleasure evoked through moments at the Burleigh Heads beach in adolescence, that it is being conveyed by a native. It is an odd contrast when he details the pleasure of his parents and their friends in a simple game of canasta while he lies in abject terror of his conception of the Sandfly Man. This figure which has arrested his imagination causes him to fear it far more than the fearsome combination of the ‘government, devil and God all rolled into one’.

In its conclusion, we are left to contemplate the inability of the author to return to the caravan park even though his sister does. The family tradition is carried out by his sister after she had kids herself since she forages out her own caravan park space and the card playing scenario continues with a younger generation in her circle of family friends; but the author is an outsider who sits by himself in the lounge on Christmas morning watching television. The door to the past is not open to him.

The fear of the ghost of the Sandfly Man with his swirling mist is still to elude our writer.

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