03 February, 2008

'Making Laws for Clouds' - Nick Earls

Nick Earls writes about Australian males. More specifically, Australian males who live in Queensland, face relationship insecurities, are blessed with wit and humour, and who meet captivating women with whom to share their riposte.

It's a good formula and one that, since the publication of Zigzag Street in 1996, has made good on Who Weekly's claim to 'Buy a Nick Earls novel and never be sad again'. The one non-constant in his universal male protagonist is age: in Earls' adult fiction his characters may be going through crises in their mid-twenties or early thirties. In his young adult fiction they deal with late teenage angst.

Making Laws for Clouds fits into the latter group. Kane is 18 and working for Caloundra Council to help support his family: his mother has turned to rum and television since his father left and his fourteen-year-old brother has a sensitive stomach and a fairly simplistic outlook. Kane meets Tanika on the bus that takes both their families to church each Sunday, which is the focus of their social activities. Their relationship teeters between teenage lust and adult responsibility.

As always, there is plenty of dialogue. Earls' characters tend to be fairly verbose; not always in a lengthy way, more that he employs poetic licence to allow his characters to frequently bounce the kind of quips and retorts off one another that one would associate with a rare, hilarious night out. Since they invariably find themselves in the early stages of a relationship, there is also a lot of rambling to cover awkward moments, eyebrow-raising from the females, and valiant attempts to 'dig oneself out of a hole'. It's all part of what makes Earls' novels so genuinely funny.
Philosophising is saved for the exposition. When musing to themselves, Earls' characters reveal a penchant for metaphysics, such as the discussion that explains the novel's title, and the author himself a flair for poetic description. As Kane and Tanika sit on the beach they listen to waves "Breaking up and piling up and thinning out and running to nothing, up the sand and shells, ending in a rush, disappearing in that last noise, like a long breath out".

Earls shares more than a first name with English author Nick Hornby. Both (though Hornby has diversified more in his later works) focus on flawed men, but embed the exploration in very everyday situations. They rarely come to a perfect resolution at the end of the novel: they do normally end in a relationship, but the male protagonist retains his flaws and uncertainties. Therein lies the novels' cohesiveness - our lives don't nestle into 300 pages either - and their worth, as they can teach us where to look for humour and positivity and that perfection is not the only recipe for happiness.

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