Dancing on Hot Macadam: Peter Carey's Fiction
Anthony J. Hassall
"The writer has a responsibility to tell the truth, not to shy away from the world as it is; and at the same time the writer has a responsibility to celebrate the potential of the human spirit." Peter Carey
"Peter Carey is one of the wodd's most gifted and exciting fiction writers. The first comprehensive study of Carey's work, Dancing on Hot Macadam follows his career from the nightmare-haunted stories The Fat Man in History and War Crimes to the madcap satire of Bliss, from Illywhacker's picaresque landscapes to Oscar and Lucinda's glittering achievement, and the powerfully confronting vision of The Tax Inspector.
Dancing on hot Macadam explores Carey's preoccupation with imprisonment and metamorphosis, and the desire of his characters to escape from bewildering roles, relationships and societies. Alert to recent criticaldebates, this study provides a lucid account of the fiction, its international literary context, and its intriguing critical reception in Audmiia, America and Britain."
In the unforgettable scene with which Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda ends, the tortured Oscar Hopkins is trapped inside his shattering glass church as it sinks into the Bellinger River. Physically Oscar is suffering severe withdrawal from his enforced addiction to laudanum. Morally he is tormented by guilt for killing Jeffris and fornicating with Miriam Chadwick. Psychologically he is distraught, aquaphobic, frightened of dying, and haunted by his estrangement from his father. The book ends with his cry of terror: "when the long-awaited white fingers of water tapped and lapped on Oscar's lips, he welcomed them in as he always had, with a scream, like a small boy caught in the sheet-folds of a nightmare." The scene is remarkable for its imaginative daring, its blazing visual clarity, its direct symbolism, its raw-edged emotional intensity, and its anguished re-enactment of prirnal nightmares. All of Carey's stories offer such fierce and dangerous pleasures, and despite the terrors they also enact and arouse, they create a wild, apocalyptic beauty.
Carey describes himself as a "professional dreamer", a tribal teller of tales, whose stories strive to articulate an indigenous Australian mythology needed to replace the cultural narratives of successive colonial masters. In Bliss, and in stories like "American Dreams", he examines the ways in which such fictions contribute to the rmking of history and mythology. In Illywhacker he reads history as a site of contestation rather tha as a factual record, but he does not share the deconstructionist vision of narrative as self-referential, with no more than an apparant connection to human subjectivity and a strong concern with public and private morality pervade his work.
From the UQP paperback edition, 1994.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Peter Carey page.
Last modified: August 2, 2002.