Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

'Everything Is Visible': Considering Laurie Clancy's Perfect Love

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

'Everything Is Visible': Considering Laurie Clancy's Perfect Love

Article excerpt

By the time Laurie Clancy's second novel Perfect Love was published in 1983, Clancy had established himself as an academic, critic, short story writer and novelist. Westerly had published his first short story 'The Wife Specialist' in 1971. A debut novel The Collapsible Man followed in 1975, to some critical acclaim. It was to share the National Book Council Award of that year. A collection of short stories under the title of his first published short story appeared in 1978. He was already working on his Reader 's Guide to Australian Fiction, though it took a decade to complete, being published in 1992.

Reception of his early work emphasized the 'comic misadventures' and mordant wit (Grant, 44). Clancy's work was characterized as funny, jokily or blackly comic, seen as capable of drawing wry laughs and grimaces even from the kind of people, such as the characters in his stories, too smugly self-conscious of their liberal education, too caught in 'self-absorption' (a recurrent term in 'The Wife Specialist') to laugh out loud. The humour in this early work tilts on a knife-edge between flippancy and despair. Contemporary reviewers of the time, though, emphasized the rollicking comic element, as if these works were focused on a 'guy's world,' as the America Clancy visited in 1969 when he was Harkness scholar, writing on Nabokov, might have termed it. But for Clancy, the world of his fiction always incorporated the female, and the complexities of the 'real' business of living (Clancy, Perfect Love 180).

It is true that Clancy's characters are predominantly male-specifically the kind of Australian male negotiating a post-pioneer world, post two world wars, able to access education and sexually emancipated women in a way of which most of their fathers could only dream. In this climate of social change, they do not, however, have access, to the clear patriarchal privileges of their fathers, the kind we see Joe Lloyd, husband of the central character Nora of Perfect Love, assume. He can't 'get it out of his head' that women are 'essentially decorative appendages to the real business of living, which is what men did' (180), even while the consultations carried on about family business between his wife and eldest daughter demonstrate a 'manifestly visible refutation of his assumptions' (180). Clancy's younger male characters do not have access to the heroic territory their fathers and grandfathers traversed- the historical context of pioneering or war, a context that authorised and legitimised a version of masculinity and the patriarchal conditions from which their fathers gained direct benefit.

Clancy delineates the representatives of this new generation of males as having more choice, and supposedly greater awareness, yet somehow living lives that are self-absorbed, attenuated, even disillusioned. Faced with more possibilities-'too many possibilities' (222)-in their lives, they might be represented by James, the narrator of Perfect Love who sardonically concludes at one point: 'Everything is risible' (255). In his later novel Night Parking, Clancy's protagonist Neil is bleakly aware of his dilemma as a male in relation to possessing the female: 'I can still possess if I wanted to...yet never possess in reality' (49).

For the generation of no longer quite young men that frequent much of Clancy's fiction, life has neither heroics nor conviction. Uneasy in their masculinity, partly because they are knowing and educated, any development of artistic capacity uncertain and dissipated because it confers on a male only ambiguous status, Clancy's males feel they are bystanders, historical and moral voyeurs - in some kind of perpetual tension. They feel inadequate in relation to the expectations of the male past, and the new expectations of the women, wives and lovers, struggling to know how to be in the universe.

Clancy initially renders the narrator of Perfect Love, James, as if he is this kind of young man, uneasy, ironic, and impersonal. …

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