Dad Art by Damien Wilkins – 2016

Dad ArtI have been reading a lot about narrative arc lately – and against the tide of my reading have been picking up novels that don’t really have one.  Dad Art is such a novel, it follows Wellington based sound engineer Michael from when he is undergoing a minor procedure to remove a suspected carcinoma on his chest, through to his reminiscing about recent events and moving into his next set of circumstances.  Michael separated from his wife of 20 years a year after their daughter Sam left home to move to Auckland.  He is missing his daughter, visiting his father who is descending into dementia, learning Te Reo, living in an up-market complex and trying out options for new relationships.  The carcinoma threat is a worry, as is the thought of his latest relationship prospect – a younger woman with a young son.  But the biggest discord arrives when Sam visits attached (literally) to Matiu as part of Matiu’s private art experiment a la Linda Montano.  I think the point of the book is that our lives are performance pieces and it is up to us to make them interesting to others and ourselves.  Michael isn’t really doing that; he is disparaging and constantly joking about the flag referendum, his is dismissive of the Peter Jackson WW1 art exhibition he visits with Cassie, the new ‘possible’ and her son and his friend.  He is suspicious and unsure of Cassie.  He can’t really articulate his feeling to Sam and ends alienating her for a while.  He has regrets for mild sins of omission – not really sticking up for a bullied boy at school, never really talking to his father about the sadness of his father’s past while he had the chance.  He was a bit slow off the mark in moving to Auckland to be with Sam and not feeling able to after his wife did fearing he would appear “grasping and weird”.  He is slightly peripheral to the Te Reo experience, not confident in his engagement and realising that knowing the Te Reo name of the Hutt River will never give him the knowledge that Matui has because “Like a lot of Māori stuff. Context is everything, yeah.”  Michael is moving slowly towards old age and has an experience where “Jesus, he was turning into his father”, but you do feel he is still working on shaping his life to make it better.  I can’t say Dad Art is a riveting read – as Michael is really a minor character – but he is one I am glad I spent some time with.

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