The holiday season is a time for family and merriment, but for those who have lost loved ones it isn’t always easy. Trent Dalton, the author of Boy Swallows Universe, wrote this letter to his late father, who is still present at Christmas time. In fact, his father is present in all aspects of Trent’s life.
Of course, a note. You were the best at notes. Letters were too earnest for you; too schmaltzy. You wrote notes. That one you sent me that sits bound in sticky tape above my hard drive. The last one. The Last Note. Sounds like a bloody thriller title. One of those door-stopping pulp fiction paperbacks you were always reading. The last note. That killer line you left me with that always gets me all wet-eyed and longing: “You have done all the right things”. I use that on the girls. You have done all the right things. Not all the spectacular things. Not all the showy things. Just the right things. Beth finished primary school this year and she’s excited about high school and you would have lost your shit, Dad, last Friday when the principal handed her the hallowed “spirit of the school” award. The things they said about her. The right things. Never the girl who gets the spotlight, never the showy kid. Just the quiet kid who cares a great deal about a great many things. And you know who was the most happy for her? It was Sylvie. Nine-year-old cyclone Sylvie, who, you’d probably be secretly happy to know, is still not quite as possessed by the spirit of Catholic saints but more, like you, the spirit of Keith Richards.
I did end up writing that book I told you about. I called it Boy Swallows Universe. That title’s a newspaper headline, but it means what it says. Swallow it all, right? The good stuff, the bad stuff, the beautiful stuff, the mad stuff. You taught me that. Swallow it down then cough it back up as words. Surprise everybody. It’s all in there. Mum, you, the boys, Slim, that feller, that other feller and, yep, him, too.
I even put Fangorn in there. The indoor weeping fig you named after a talking tree from The Lord of the Rings. Ol’ Fangorn who used to cop all the durry butts. Toughest bloody plant in all of Housing Commission Bracken Ridge. Ol’ Fangorn who we’d wrap in a balding stretch of tinsel and push into the corner of the living room and call a Christmas tree. Gifts under the tree wrapped in old Courier-Mail pages. Paul Keating’s contorted newspaper face under the tree talking about the recession we had to have. Merry Christmas Dalton boys. We owe Keating a lot, I reckon. His commitment to social housing meant you could raise four boys in a small brick home impervious to Queensland summer storms for less than $50 a week in rent. Merry Christmas Paul.
Old books we’d wrap up and hand to each other as new Christmas presents. Dodgy gifts from the St Vinnie’s discount bin. Remember that time you bought Ben that small square of floppy orange plastic for Christmas? Just what every young Bracken Ridge tearaway needs, a grip pad to open stubborn jam jar lids. Remember the Christmas boxes Mr Caffry – my old school principal – would drop off to us? Tins of Golden Circle pineapple pieces. Canned ham. Licorice All-Sorts. The whole range of Kirk’s soft drinks. I thought we’d won the bloody lotto. Remember that Christmas when there was nothing more that I wanted to see under that tree than a Super Nintendo computer console and I rushed to that tree that December 25 morning filled with inexplicable and misguided hope and I opened up my present that year to find you’d gifted me a black bathroom towel. Not even a beach towel that spoke of certain trips to Bribie Island and King’s Beach, Caloundra. No, this was your standard black bathroom towel. “Bathroom towels aren’t supposed to be Christmas presents, Dad,” I said. “Bathroom towels are supposed to be provided. Bathroom towels are a given. You might as well have wrapped up a roll of Sorbent.” I was such a dream-filled git. “Worst Christmas ever,” I hollered that day, like a spoiled brat. But I take that back, wholeheartedly, Dad. That was the best Christmas ever, because that’s the one we remember. That’s the one we laugh about most and all us boys would give anything to be handed a five buck Big W towel by you again this Christmas.
A fair few people liked the book, Dad. I see them reading it across Australia and they’re enjoying themselves. You’re making them laugh and you’re making them cry and every time I see that book on a shelf somewhere I think about how much you’d have loved that sight. Maybe you can see it. I wrote it for you, Dad. That’s my gift to you this Christmas. Not a bathroom towel. Not a jam jar grip. A story. A love story where you’re a central character. You still are that central character. You always will be. Merry Christmas, Dad, and thanks for all of it. You did all the right things.
Merry Christmas and thanks for the extraordinary support.
An utterly wonderful novel of love, crime, magic, fate and coming of age, set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe – from one of Australia’s most exciting new writers.
Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It’s not as if Eli’s life isn’t complicated enough already. He’s just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way – not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.
But Eli’s life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He’s about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.
A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.
‘Trent Dalton is the most extraordinary writer – a rare talent. A major new voice on the Australian literary scene has arrived.’ Nikki Gemmell
‘An astonishing achievement. Dalton is a breath of fresh air – raw, honest, funny, moving, he has created a novel of the most surprising and addictive nature. Unputdownable.’ David Wenham
‘I couldn’t stop reading from the moment I started, and I still can barely speak for the beauty of it. Trent Dalton has done something very special here, writing with grace, from his own broken heart.’ Caroline Overington
‘Enthralling – a moving account of sibling solidarity and the dogged pursuit of love.’ Geoffrey Robertson QC
‘Stunning. My favourite novel for decades. Left me devastated but looking to the heavens.’ Tim Rogers
Posted on December 18, 2018 by Larissa