Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 26, 2017

The Man Who Took to his Bed, by Alex Skovron

The Man Who Took to his Bed is a collection of short stories by Melbourne poet and author Alex Skovron (whose novella The Poet I read and reviewed a while ago).  The collection comes highly recommended, with blurbers Helen Garner and Alex Miller, no less.

The titular story reminded me of Kafka’s MetamorphosisNo, no bugs.  But similarly, a man disengaged from the world.  He simply goes to bed, and doesn’t get up.  Like the man’s bemused wife, the reader doesn’t know why, or what eventually happens.

What is important is what happened to Lucas, and this can no longer be expressed simply.  One day Lucas took to his bed.  We may speculate that it was a headache or an upset stomach, that he was exhausted and needed to rest, or suddenly sleepy and needed to close his eyes, or we may choose to explore an entirely different set of possibilities, but all our conjectures and speculations will remain within the realm of speculation and conjecture, and Lucas in the meantime has escaped us forever. It is the only thing we can know with any certainty.  (p. 17)

It’s not the first story in the collection.  The first one, ‘Day in the Life’ sets the tone: it’s about a man who wakes up to find that there is a woman he doesn’t know sleeping beside him in his bed.  This complete stranger behaves exactly like a wife of long standing – and he, out of embarrassment and uncertainty, responds to her as if he knows who she is.  She’s there again when he comes home from work, cooking him some soup.

… I could see that I was going to have to confront her. This total stranger had slept in my bed, was coming and going freely, and behaving as if we had been together for years.  Was this some elaborately staged hoax, an intricate practical joke? Was I the victim of a reality-TV setup?  I could think of no other explanation. I didn’t believe that I had suddenly developed some weird selective amnesia; I certainly didn’t believe I was losing my mind.  (p.6)

The story that follows the metamorphosis of Lucas from ‘normal’ to being completely unavailable to others, is called ‘The Man who Tried to Erase his Shadow’, so you can see where the collection is taking the reader.  This one is more grounded in reality: it’s the ramblings of a discontented man with unacknowledged problems with his wife, but it has the same disconnected quality and the same poignant longing for some elusive thing that will make life worthwhile.

Most of the fourteen stories have been published before, in other collections or in journals.  The oldest one, ‘Gambit’ (published in 1987 in a collection called ‘Storyteller, Short Stories by Australian Writers’) is cleverly structured around a macabre game of chess, but I liked it for this:

The train stumbles, rattles along, preparing to be swallowed by the south-western pylon.  Train-trips have always been something of a treat and I decide not to disembark at Wynyard.  Adjusting my position against the hard squab, I become aware of another presence nearby; he must have jumped on at the last minute, or switched compartments. The man is occupying the window seat in the row directly to the left and across the aisle from mine, looking out eastward beyond the multi-lane carriageway with its cars and buses, past the steel mesh of the pedestrian footway, towards the dozing cranes of the Opera House site, half-lost in the early-evening gloom descending on Bennelong Point. By now the shadow of the Bridge must be creeping across the ferries’ wake, in the direction of Utzon’s bristling embryo.  (p. 84)

Sydney in transition!  Sydney before its icon was built! A teenage Sydney, if you like, like the teenage protagonist, on the cusp of a future barely glimpsed.

BTW Skovron is also an artist: I checked the book to find out about the intriguing cover art, and it’s a work called ‘The Clock’ from 1992.

Author: Alex Skovron
Title: The Man Who Took to his Bed
Publisher: Puncher and Wattman, 2017
ISBN: 9781922186973
Review copy courtesy of Puncher and Wattman

Available from Fishpond: The Man Who Took to His Bed


Responses

  1. I have a pet theory that poets have extensive vocabularies. Did you notice this?

    • Well, I think all writers have (or ought to have) extensive vocabularies. With poets, (amongst other things) it’s more about the artful arrangement or words, and choosing the precise one that’s right for the occasion.

      • The poets, more often than not, send me to the dictionary when they take to fiction.

        • It’s John Banville who makes me do that:) (I just bought his new one, yay!)

  2. Hello Lisa I enjoyed your review of Alex’s collection Now I wonder if I may send you hard copy in the form of a voucher for a free copy of my forthcoming ebook collection The Dead Aviatrix. It would be great if you could bring yourself to have a look at it and maybe put it in context of ebooks and hard copy etc. if you would like the voucher could you please let me know the address for me to send it to you. Best wishes Carmel 🦋 Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Well, I’m sorry Carmel,but I’m not taking on any new commitments to anything right now, not until I’ve cleared the backlog. I’m aiming to deal with it by EOY so that I can start 2018 with a clean slate, but of course there are also other books that I’ve bought that I want to read between now and then as well so at 39 books+ it’s rather an absurd ambition, given that there are only 66 days left to 2018!


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