#16: I’m Ready Now, by Nigel Featherstone

I’m Ready Now is the second of three novellas by Nigel Featherstone published by Blemish Books. I reviewed the first, Fall On Me, last year and I’ve now read all three (I read the third, The Beach Volcano, before starting this website, but hope to revisit it in a future post). Each novella is self-contained with its own plot and characters, but there are thematic linkages between them, along with an intimate engagement with the domestic that allows for the exploration of large themes within small worlds. I’m Ready Now follows Gordon, a gay man living in Sydney, and his mother, Lynne, who’s flying in from Hobart following the death of her husband—Gordon’s stepdad.

The mother-son relationship between Gordon and Lynne is not a close one, and we sense early on that their pending reunion is tinged with both tenderness and a desire not to intrude too closely upon each other. This particular kind of family relationship is one that I’ve not seen often explored in literature, and it was wonderful to read such a deft treatment of it in this book. Featherstone weaves the first-person narration of Gordon and Lynne into a coherent whole, allowing us to see the distances and differences between them as their worlds come together in Gordon’s small house in Glebe.

When I think of alternating first-person narration in novels, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap is the most immediate example that comes to mind. In The Slap, we gain each character’s quite different perspective on a single controversial event and its aftermath, a broad social cross-section and how their lives and attitudes intersect. I’m Ready Now is a much more intimate book, in which the perspective alternates between mother and son, taking us from one to the other and back again, in a way that gradually draws us closer to each of them, understanding their relationship from both sides at once, and learning a great deal about their lives from the way they think about each other and their past.

We learn early on that Gordon is in the eleventh month of what he calls his ‘Year of Living Ridiculously’—also his ‘Lunar Escapades’—a year which is building towards a climax: ‘The Ultimate’, the vague details of which give the sense that his year of partying and casual sex is going to end in something bigger, more dangerous. While a year of hedonism is not an inherently bad thing, a certain callousness comes across in certain details, such as the way Gordon describes an encounter with a young man:

We went back to his place, which turned out to be up on the high side of Glebe Point Road where the old-money mansions are, the establishment. When it was all over—he claimed to have done three lines, which delayed the coming of our climaxes until it felt like both of us were going to explode—it was 7 am and the object of the night was starting to get phonecalls and text-messages. Did his friends want to make sure that he’d not taken home a serial killer? Or did they just want all the lusty, lurid details, because there’s no point keeping these things secret? I bet he doesn’t tell them that he almost cries when he comes—at the end of our business he’d had a tear in the eye, I’m sure.

Gordon is a lost character, struggling to find meaning in the meaningless, and somewhat oblivious to the pain this causes those around him: his childhood friend, Shanie; and his lover, Levi. It’s in the reunion with his mother that everything come into focus. Soon before meeting his mother, Gordon reflects: “I’ve been on the run, I understand that, and my mother understands that too.” And through Lynne’s narration, we get other snippets of his life and their relationship:

I’ve employed that nickname—Donian—at exactly the right point, and I’ve employed it out of affection. Donian: the diminutive of Gordonian. Gordonian: like a period in the time of the earth: this fossilised fish comes from the Gordonian period. Except this has nothing to do with archaeology, not in the scientific sense, but everything to do with his father, the man—in my mind a permanently young man—who loved his son but then didn’t. How’s my little Gordonian? Patric Finn would ask about the bundled-up boy in my arms.

Gordon is silent. He’s floored by my use of his nickname, one that so rarely gets an airing these days that it’s almost a secret weapon. And I like thinking of it like that, a secret weapon, one that only I have access to, one that I need to keep up my sleeve for later use.

The idea of a nickname being some kind of secret weapon perfectly encapsulates the way families sometimes work, and the way family members know each other—and how to deal with each other—in ways that nobody else can. Having said that, the distance between them means that Lynne has actually learnt more about Gordon’s adult life through his friend Shanie than direct communication, and this also illuminates the subterranean nature of this close-yet-distant mother-son relationship, an underground river that can’t be stopped flowing.

The city of Sydney is another character in this book, and it’s always a joy to read about places you’ve lived in, streets you’ve walked down so many times, and places you’ve been. As a novella this obviously can be read quickly, yet it feels somehow slow (by which I do not mean boring); slow in the way you come to know the characters gradually: through their interactions, their thoughts, their reflections on each other and on the past. The full story of Gordon and Lynne’s past is slowly drawn out through flashback moments as the present-day plot unfolds, and it’s joyful to experience this in the hands of an expert storyteller like Nigel Featherstone. Events finally converge on a single Saturday: the sale of Lynne’s house, a celebratory dinner with Levi and Shanie, the planned climax of Gordon’s Year of Living Ridiculously; and a deep suspense builds as we wonder how things will end. The ending doesn’t disappoint. This is an intimate, beautiful book that brings its own unique treatment to the themes that underlie all three instalments in this wonderful trio of novellas.