Thirteen stories, about love, hope, regret, fear, and all orbiting around introspection. We encounter dog-walkers, tourists in India, inspirational speakers, cancer patients and many other extraordinary ordinary people. The author’s intent is exploring exactly what it is that makes these people tick, and what circumstances could break them.
I don’t think it’s entirely fair of me of to review this book. I’m far from its ideal reader, being more enthusiastic about Plastic Man and selkies than exploring human nature. (Still, at least I’d be more relevant than this guy.) I’m human. I’ve been dealing with other humans all my life. If there’s a book that’s going to show more anything about humanity that I don’t already know, it’s certainly not going to be fiction.
Still, I like Blain’s prose style. And her characters seem like people I could actually meet, and while that disengages me, it shows that she’s a better writer than I am. While her stories don’t give you the entire picture of her character’s lives, they tell you enough.
I’ve found such introspection to be a real theme in Australian literary fiction. Profundity seems to come in the form of middle-class people thinking about how dull and miserable their lives are. I don’t really go for that sort of thing, myself. I prefer comic action with a pinch of surrealism.
Blain is at her best when she captures a realistic situation that her audience would be unfamiliar with, yet recognise as plausible. ”Enlarged + Heart + Patient” is about a girl with a chronic condition and her parents dealing with hospital life, and how they tolerate the entertainers and AFL players who come to cheer them up. It resonated with me, having heard similar tales from relatives. ”Big Dreams” is about a woman’s hesitant attraction to an inspirational speaker, the chief tension being how sincere he is. I enjoyed this one because I honestly have no idea what goes on inside the mind of an inspirational speaker, and I’m glad that Blain tried to guess. Blain could’ve teased this concept out into a longer piece, or even a screenplay.
Since, I’ve carried on about not being the ideal reader of the Secret Lives Of Men, I may as well say I why tried it. I acquired the book, amongst many others, as a prize for winning second place at a short story competition two years ago. It was in a bundle from the publisher Scribe, who i should thank for encouraging such competitions. The reason I read it recently was my thesis, on masculinity. Judging by the title, I figured it would have some insights about the matter.
And another thing, there’s one story where the main couple have the same names as my parents. Urk!
I wouldn’t recommend this book to me or someone with my tastes. I’d recommend this for fans of Australian literary fiction, ABC dramas, and those who are morbidly fascinated by inspirational speakers.