Down the Hume by Peter Polites (2017). This review is by John Cook

Down the Hume

This is a somewhat bleak but revealing read. That said, there are occasional flashes of humour and worthwhile insight into some aspects of gay life with which I have had almost no experience. Count the ways. I have had a little to do with Greek-Australian culture but not a lot. I smiled at the description of weekend ‘Greek school’ but, apart from Tsolkas and a few others, I didn’t have a lot of insight – especially into a substantially dysfunctional family (father rejecting and vicious – mother loving, supportive but addicted and delusional) living in heavily ethnic urban areas. The world of drug use is not new to me and the author largely focuses on a painkiller with a name that echoes a range of commonly abused substances. I have had virtually no experience of  ‘Muscle Mary’ culture but have been a long-time observer of the semiotics of gay dress and speech which feature heavily in this story (especially clothing).

 

The central character, Peter, has a number of names including nicknames that make things a little confusing as it is the same for his lover and the author’s Christian name as well. Peter works in an old persons’ nursing home that is largely drawn with frightening accuracy from the viewpoint of a lowly worker who actually interacts with the patients he services. This provides an ancillary story of partnered older gay men and their treatment by family and society. Peter’s story has very little in the way of silver lining. He is deeply attached to his mother yet they share a key addiction. The back story of his family provides some answers for his current position and condition and is believable if somewhat unyieldingly gloomy.

 

His love life with his lover, Nice Arms Pete, is a case of hope over certainty (unfaithfulness, chemical, physical and emotional abuse) and there is a painful process of disabusement (is that a real word?) that readers follow (use of some typical modern hand-held technology here) wondering where it will end for Peter. The conclusion is more in the same vein with lots of tortured thinking and responses to admittedly often unpromising urban environments. I found myself yearning for some more hopeful and positive responses to this world for someone.

 

The sense of disillusion is quite overpowering in this novel and is matched by the story’s progress through the streets, parks and suburbs of an inner-urban environment (part of the departure route from Sydney on the old Hume Highway). Central to Peter’s world and life is the issue of chemical use whether it is Nice Arm’s use of testosterone and other unguessed chemicals often abused in his circle or Peter’s desire to dull his and his mother’s emotional pain with inevitable consequences.

 

This is a kind of variant on the road trip novel that is a journey through shadows and darkness.

 

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