Taonga, New Zealand, isn't most people's idea of paradise, but for the
Sherbornes and their 16-year-old son, Craig, an unencumbered, pastoral
existence on a 300-acre farm is as near to heaven as they can reasonably
expect to get. They mark the beginning of the newly landed Sherborne
dynasty by grandly christening their dream home "Tudor Park." But as
time passes, the gentility and salubrious effect they so avidly sought isn't
as forthcoming as they'd hoped. And for very good reason the entire
family seems to be going crazy. Not charmingly eccentric, not disarmingly
loopy, but barking mad, just shy of certifiable.
With wit, candor, and obvious tenderness, Sherborne chronicles his
family's slide down the slippery slop (no, that's not a typo) of mental illness.
His sharply observed memoir evokes his family in their full, and vocal,
disharmony. There's "Feet," his once beautiful and sophisticated mother;
"The Duke," his belligerent, na?ve, and combative father; and finally,
there's Craig himself, "Lord Muck," a muddled and misguided teenager, at
once the hapless victim of a dubious birthright, and cunning agent of his
parents' decline. That he is the only one who can save the family is the
ironic truth embedded at the heart of his marvelous memoir.
A wrenching account of a family in jeopardy, and a darkly hilarious
and intensely affecting tale of a troubled young man in search of himself,
Muck has all the makings of a classic.
This Australian poet and playwright focuses on his severely dysfunctional family from the perspective of a self-centered teenage boy with a penchant for sarcasm, dark humor, and meanness. The author's aggressive angst is largely isolated to a farm in New Zealand that houses a snobbish mother's paranoia, a blowhard father's weaknesses, and the kid narrator's self-conscious approach to life. His father instilled in him a distrust of the uneducated "Gunna - the man who is "gunna do this, gunna be that…" and it shows in Sherborne's interactions with locals. "Norman and Bill may have knowledge, but it's cow knowledge, hardly knowledge in the real sense," he says. Occasionally Sherborne allows his poetry to rise to the surface, as in descriptions of his father's gaze from a Sydney balcony: "And all the yachts that sail there only sail with his permission. All the fish must trespass out of sight below the surface." Sherborne's bleak moral emerges when a favored calf expires from over-imbibing in milk: it's all muck. (June)
A rural, coming-of-age memoir set in New Zealand, featuring a dairy farm and feckless parents. Leaving urban Australia for a spread of 300 acres in the environs of Taonga (pop. 3,000), young Sherborne, with Dad ("The Duke") and Mom ("Feet"), embarked on a life envisioned suitable for the distinguished landed gentry they planned to become. The Duke was self-important, Feet was a serious snob and their artistic scion, an only child who could accurately mimic Elvis and Nat King Cole, was as bewildered and self-centered as any adolescent. The author, putative heir to the property grandly named Tudor Park, tried to tame a pugnacious horse trainer and deal with an irascible cowhand and his surly son. It was, after all, a place for future generations, even though the neighbors were commonplace folk, far beneath the civilized owners of Tudor Park. The locals were slobs, and the cows are simpletons. So reports the author, in the mode of a Down Under version of Holden Caulfield-indeed, Sherborne was chosen to play the lead in his school's musical version of Catcher in the Rye. As the growing teenager took it all in, rubbing the soil of the farm into his pores, The Duke taught his son about shaving and manliness, while Feet ranted constantly and gradually lost her sanity. In a distinctive, simultaneously caustic and funny style, the author writes poetically about family matters, adolescence, the farming life and "the pull of history."Poet and playwright Sherborne displays a sharp, sardonic voice.