This week, I have been reading Lynn Mitchell’s The Red Beach Hut as a kind of palate cleanser to last week’s Amygdalatropolis.
Last week’s novel did leave me kind of ruined by the absolute outpouring of filth that seemed deeply real — because everything/nothing is real/matters, the context dies and so does any way of rationalising it. It exposes you directly to the content because it removes the barriers; it’s an unreliable primary source that is all you have to go on. The idea of garbage in garbage out is explored in the book — i.e. what you become if you only engage with this hate is a hateful thing — and also by reading the book you experience some of it, you are changed by consuming this primary source.
In fairly stark contrast, but with a few similar themes, The Red Beach Hut looks at Abbott, a man working in the young offender unit is targeted by a homophobic hate crime online at his workplace — which triggers fears about a data trail that might connect him to underage pornography purchased by a previous lover with his credit card. His paranoia makes him jump ship and make a swift exit to a seaside town where he strikes up a relationship with an eight year old boy, Neville, who Abbott already identifies as someone at risk.
The book opens in an unsettling way. Reading anything about a middle-aged man, a stranger, taking a young boy along the beach by the hand, fear and paranoia running through his mind, triggers suspicion in the reader. We’re culturally trained to think of this as a dangerous situation for the child, especially in the context of a novel where we are looking for the friction and conflict.
The book is interesting to compare to B R Yeager’s work because the theme of persecution and assumption of the worst are there. Here it’s the tabloid mentality as the antagonist, the small-minded Daily Mail reader, looking for the scapegoat for every situation — developing their own kind of misanthropy through their media consumption in the way Yeager’s protagonist through theirs.
In Amygdalatropolis there is lots of discussion on the messageboards about getting “v&” — i.e. a government van coming to pick you up because you accessed something nasty, like child porn. Abbot has identical concerns, but in a world with context and where the threat of reality breaking is a threat, rather than a higher plane to be achieved.
The child is well realised, and his reactions to his mother’s sex work feel real and underpinned with sadness in the same way the closing beach huts for the summer, the yearly death of seaside towns. There is a brokenness of community here, of the shutting down of the seaside town and the way that atomises people — those in the beach huts don’t generally know one another for very long, and this transience makes those that do stay feel more powerful in the sense that they’re happy to judge. Ultimately though no one here belongs, and those who arbitrate the belonging are those who don’t really want anyone to belong at all.
The Tenor of Your Yes by Mary Ruefle is lovely. I was going to take it apart, talking about that kind of building of your own world thing that is implied by the genesis similarities. But I think it’s better if I don’t:
This week’s song is a continuation from last week’s Andrew Bird obsession — which lead me to St Vincent, and this Tiny Desk of Loss Ageless.
and the much more electronic original can be found here, with its extremely good cake telephone near the end:
How can anybody have you?
How can anybody have you and lose you?
How can anybody have you and lose you
And not lose their minds, too?
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own — honestly it was kind of more weird to have read a normal (maybe even “commercial fiction”) book for once, I really don’t think I’ve read anything like it in a while. I didn’t die from it, which is a good start. ETTO — these very words that you are reading with your eyes — was written by @CJEGGETT and proofread by no one. Bonus song of the week for one particular subscriber: Nicolas Jaar on XLR8R. It’s a test. I’ve been writing a lot of short stories this week, which is unusual, but they’re quite nice to have around. I imagine it’s what like collecting Royal Doulton would be like.