Family Madness

Family Madness

by Thomas Keneally


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The fatal and desperate politics of Eastern Europe collide with the comparative innocence and complacency of suburban Australian life in this powerful and disturbing love story about two families and the madness that invades their lives.

Terry Delaney leads a relatively satisfying life as a security guard and as a passionate rugby player with a shot at pro-team success. But Terry's life is shaken beyond recognition when he falls obsessively in love with Danielle Kabbel, the daughter of his employer, Rudi Kabbel. Rudi, a half-mad/half-charming immigrant from Eastern Europe, suffers from visions of an impending apocalypse and from the demons of a tormented childhood.

The family madness runs deep, from the Kabbel family patriarch, Stanek, a Nazi collaborator who betrayed his wife to save his own neck, to Rudi's traumatic childhood in which he was a pawn between the Nazis and the Russians. It is into this maelstrom of devastating history and present day insanity that Terry is drawn--to his own desperate peril.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671885120
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/01/1993
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Thomas Keneally began his writing career in 1964 and has published thirty-three novels since, most recently Crimes of the Father, Napoleon’s Last Island, Shame and the Captives, and the New York Times bestselling The Daughters of Mars. His novels include Schindler’s List, which won the Booker Prize in 1982, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates, all of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also written several works of nonfiction, including his boyhood memoir Homebush Boy, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and Searching for Schindler. He is married with two daughters and lives in Sydney, Australia.

Read an Excerpt

A Family Madness

By Thomas Keneally


Copyright © 1986 Serpentine Publishing Company Propriertary, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3805-8


Terry. Delaney's father often remarked on the state of Main Street, Penrith, in the hard times of the 1980s. "The shops that sell real things close down," he said, "and in their place you get the bloody juju medicine stalls."

By juju medicine stalls Delaney the elder meant the agencies of anxious governments, local, state, Commonwealth; the nine-to-five havens for those to whom heroin, spouses, or employers had been cruel; the shopfronts behind which the bewildered were counseled. Off Main Street, on the western edge of the park, stood the house which offered financial advice to those who no longer had finances. This was municipal mercy. If you wanted the mercy of the state you went to Youth and Community Services, and the grace of the Commonwealth was incarnated in Social Services. They all, according to observation and the opinion of Delaney senior, did more business than the barber. At any of them you could meet the same tousled and bruised wives, and men who had once worked at the abattoirs at Homebush or Riverstone or at the forklift factory at Flemington or the heavy engineering at Clyde. As workers they had been loudly discontented and whimsically bought Lotto tickets each week, prepared to wait a lifetime for the gods of the numbers to do them a favor. Now they were reflective and awesomely docile, half-shaven, a sort of fluff of ennui caught in the crevices of their faces. They tried to turn out the world's thinnest roll-your-owns while they waited for the bureaucrats of small bounties to get around to them.

They were the men Terry Delaney had always presumed he'd never sit among. Yet when he gave up a day's work to sit among these men and their women and wait for a counselor to speak to him, he no longer had the pride left to make it clear that he was there because of love and not for want. And now, being desperate, he knew why people came to these places. You couldn't help but expect that one of those public servants could produce from behind his desk the glittering answer.

Delaney was there for that very answer. He explained how Danielle Kabbel was a hostage, her child a hostage too, all to old Rudi's madness.

"You claim to be the child's father?" the counselor asked him when at last he was called to her desk. She was a small dark girl who looked Greek.

"I registered her birth, April second, 1984," said Delaney, finding the birth certificate and putting it on the desk in front of the girl. A child social worker. I place my daughter in the hands of this seminar attender. The girl's arms were stick thin. Delaney feared she was probably one of those inner city vegetarians. Her body was inadequate for rescuing his child.

He produced his driving license. "See that. The same signature as on the registration. I want someone to please go and look at the place. No electricity, no heating. For all I know the water's been cut off. How can they warm a bottle for the child? Without electricity."

"If I find the conditions you describe," the girl said, "there would be grounds for removing the infant from the mother's custody. That wouldn't mean your daughter would be automatically given to you. You would have to apply for custody separately. It may in any case be necessary to house the mother with the child if it is still breastfeeding."

The idea of Alexandra at Danielle's breast made him dizzy with hope.

"Get my baby out of that house," he pleaded. "I can't, because Warwick Kabbel threatened me with both barrels of his shotgun when I went around there. But they wouldn't do anything like that to you, because you're in authority."

"Oh," she said, laughing bitterly, "you want me to face firearms, Mr. Delaney."

"I don't mind facing them myself, I'm desperate. But it doesn't do any good."

He could not explain to her how safe she'd be, how law-abiding and polite the Kabbel boys would be. They would have been polite to the man from Prospect Council who came to cut their water supply. Despite the armory they kept in the house, they understood precisely who held the power in this pre-Wave world. Hence he was certain this girl's bean-sprout authority could bring the Kabbels down.

"Are you able to get the cops to go with you?" he asked.

"I certainly can. And will."

She made him giddy with hope.

"Might not be until this afternoon, Mr. Delaney," she told him. The weariness of attending to a hundred misused children was apparent in her voice.

He drove three miles down the highway to Kabbel's and parked in the triangle of gum trees between the railway line and the cluster of little townhouses. They had architectural pretensions. Delaney imagined they had been designed by the sort of young architect who lived at Kirribili, wore open-neck shirts, drove a BMW. He knew too that whatever the pretensions of the design, there were no pretensions in Kabbel's place, no wall hangings, no light fittings, no light.

By edging twenty paces down the verge of this small clump of trees, Delaney could see Warwick Kabbel sitting on a patch of lawn, a baby basket beside him. In it must lie the disputed child, the daughter Delaney had registered as Alexandra. He was grateful to the Kabbels for knowing that a child needs sunlight, for taking account of her amid their berserk schemes. There must have been a sound from the basket, for Uncle Warwick smiled obliquely at it. Uncle Warwick, booby-trap expert, wielder of Magnums and shotguns.

For some reason, Warwick's smile caused Delaney to suffer a momentary loss of faith in the girl at Youth and Community Services he'd spent the morning persuading. I ought to kidnap the baby, seize Danielle. I shouldn't have spent the morning talking to vegetarian social workers.

Warwick picked up a stalk of grass and placed it as a gift in the basket. Delaney imagined the child's supine hands lying in the baby blanket, the stalk of grass between them, a scepter.

At noon Warwick hoisted the baby basket and took it inside as if the time had come for the child to feed and sleep, as if the good order of electricity still ran into the house on a line, as if the water of social sanity were still surging in the pipes.

Two further hours passed. From the Blue Mountains to Parramatta, from Richmond to Penrith was a great parish of unhappy and endangered children, so the counselor implied. His unhappy and endangered child had to join the queue. He spent the time, he kept moisture in his mouth, by sucking — as on a stone — on the courses open to him. For the child's sake he could offer to pay Kabbel's bills, but with the Kabbels cut electricity didn't seem to be an issue; they would let Warwick, who was to be the enforcer in their paradise, drive him from the door with one of their weapons. He could pay his friend Brian Stanton to help him kidnap the child, but Stanton was out on bail awaiting trial for manslaughter and Delaney was his surety. And he could wait in the shade of the gums, in the pleasant autumn air, in the thin murmur of dying insects, for the vegetarian to arrive, a skinny woman maybe, but with the fiber of the law in her.

It was nearly two in the afternoon when he saw not the counselor but a man in a suit drive up to Kabbel's door. Behind the man's Commodore came a patrol car with two policemen. One of the two Delaney saw emerge was Steve Rammage, a fullback from the local club. There's leverage I hadn't thought of. Now I'm notorious. I've broken a jaw, been suspended for six months — more visible now, under suspension, than I ever was as just another promising five-eighth. The cops in the club would do anything for me.

The man in the suit knocked on the door. It was answered by Warwick. Delaney expected that: Warwick was the Kabbels' delegate to the outside world. Warwick answered all inquiries. There seemed to be a polite and reasonable conversation between Warwick and the man in the suit, and Delaney could hear no raised voices. The man handed Warwick a folded document. Delaney understood at once. This was an eviction. He was sure Warwick would be explaining that the child was asleep and that certain things would need to be packed — his manual of explosives for example.

For two or three seconds Danielle appeared at the upstairs window, a neat blond woman in a floral-print dress, a cardigan worn over her shoulders like a cape. She looked down tranquilly on the large young policemen who had escorted the rental agent with the eviction notice to her door. In the edge of the patch of scrub Delaney flinched and raised his wrist to his mouth.

"Oh, you berserk poor bitch," he murmured against the beat of his pulse. He could feel the darkness of the house bulking and stirring behind her. She turned quietly from the window as if someone behind her had spoken.

You're coming out of that dark bloody hole. That cave without water and power. He could rush down the road and promise the agent a month's rent if that was the point. The Kabbels however had lost interest in rent, just the same as in water and power. Kabbel himself still owned firearms worth thousands of dollars to enthusiasts; the house was furnished with weaponry. He could sell off half of Uncle Security's arsenal and still have an armory adequate for starting a new company or a small revolution.

At the door Warwick excused himself and went inside. The door itself remained ajar. Waiting, the rental agent turned back to the constables and they spoke softly among themselves, old and — it seemed to Delaney — sad hands at evictions. As his father, old Greg, would have said, watching the young coppers, "Use the working class to piss the working class off." If only the Kabbel case was just another instance in the class war.

It was not impossible that Danielle would emerge carrying Alexandra in her arms and look around for Delaney. In his daydream, the eviction would shake her loose from her father by mere cumulative effect. First no light, then no water, now no roof. It had to have an impact on a bright girl, it had to cause a bit of doubt in her. There had been no Wave, no great icemelt. The desert was still the desert. They still got bugger-all rain at Ayer's Rock. The map was still the map. Rudi Kabbel had delivered her nothing except a dark hutch where she couldn't even warm her baby's milk or give her the breast in any comfort.

From the shade of the gums Delaney believed he now could hear the Kabbel family moving things — the chest perhaps, the arms cabinet. The young policemen would open their eyes when they saw Rudi's firearms, but Rudi would smile and show them his business card which said "Uncle Security Services." His pose — an honest professional whose company had in a bad time itself gone bad — would only partially satisfy them. It came to Delaney with a sense of unfamiliar joy that there was no way that Rudi Kabbel could bring his property out into the sunshine on the pavement and not instantly attract the attention of a number of departments of government, including the New South Wales police and the Youth and Community Services for whom the skinny Greek worked. Rudi would be forced into new directions. The family would disintegrate under scrutiny, and Delaney would pick up the two fragments which were all he wanted of life.

Again he believed he could hear the hard bark of furniture runners against the upstairs floor of Kabbel's townhouse, but no one came to the door to explain the delay to the rental agent and the police. Delaney saw the rental agent approach the not fully closed door, call toward the kitchen, open the door wider, make a trumpet of his hands and yell up the stairs. He turned for a moment to the police and then the three went indoors. No more than ninety seconds later the rental agent burst out of the door, fell onto the lawn where Alexandra had this morning been placed in her basket, and rolled writhing down. Delaney wondered if Rudi or more likely Warwick had shot the man, if the revolution had begun. Both police ran upright out of the house and one of them bent over the rental agent, giving aid. The other, the handy fullback, went to the patrol car and reached in for the mouthpiece of the two-way radio.

Delaney raced from his cover among the gums and sprinted over vacant land and into the townhouse road. Constable Rammage turned to him a face almost transparent, so drained of substance it was no more than a filament.

"Oh holy Jesus, Delaney!" Rammage cried, beginning to weep. "Who are those people?"


Delaney first met Rudi Kabbel by the park one humid 3 A.M. in January 1983. The southerly for which Sydneysiders always wait on humid nights had not arrived, but weathermen were assuring a desperate population that it would turn up late the following morning, flush the humidity away, and restore everyone to well-being. Delaney and his partner Stanton, though they worked separately, always met up in the small hours to share coffee from a thermos they took turns in providing.

Delaney and Stanton were responsible as officers of Castle Security for a range of properties, including a Subaru dealership and a Rural Bank. At least Stanton persisted in calling it a Rural Bank, the way he continued to call Westpac the Bank of New South Wales. "You can bank on the Wales," said the old slogan of the New South Wales. "You can wank on the bales," Stanton liked to say of the Rural, now renamed the State.

The Sun Ya Restaurant was also in the care of Delaney and Stanton, as were a trailer dealership and a yard full of swimming-pool liners. These last lay bluely on their sides like gigantic children's bathtubs, like — as Brian Stanton said — bedpans for bloody Gulliver. Within Castle's mandate there lay as well the premises of a licensed club. During his patrols, Delaney saw many a late-night inebriate enter his Commodore and drive away in perfect safety, at least until he reached the highway, where carnage was always a possibility.

On the night of their meeting with Kabbel, Delaney and Stanton emerged from the back lane behind Franklin's supermarket and saw Kabbel sitting in the park by the bandstand, his night-watch lunch spread before him, a picnicker in the abandoned shopping center. He looked so strange in his blue uniform — it was not the blue most security men wore, it was what Delaney thought of as a foreign blue. Delaney could tell too — by a sort of musk of hostility given off by his friend — that the man's tranquil mastication annoyed Stanton.

As they got closer, Delaney noticed that the top button of the man's collar was done up and that this added to his foreignness. On his collars were two brass badges of four circles arranged rather like the Olympic rings, though there were only two rings in the top row as in the bottom. Stanton approached the man in that jovially hostile manner he had picked up in the New South Wales police force.

"Enjoying our tucker?" Stanton asked.

The man was tall, Germanic-looking, bullet-headed, with spiky blond hair turning in places to a gray poll.

"Would you like some?" the man asked, pushing the packet of sandwiches toward Stanton, whimsically reducing him to the status of a beggar. Stanton said no thanks and moved his shoulders threateningly inside his blue shirt. But his authority seemed to Delaney to be debased by this muscle-flexing. It may have meant more had he still been a cop. It would then have conveyed to the citizen, even to this foreigner, that Stanton was thinking of a range of possible provocations and charges — resisting arrest, using obscene and indecent language, malicious damage to a police shirt.

"You work for Castle," said the man, reading the label on their shirts. "I used to work for Ramparts. Such references to medieval fortifications! Now I'm in business for myself."

The man took from his breast pocket a wad of business cards and peeled one off for Delaney and then one for Stanton. The business cards displayed the four rings. Below them was the name "Uncle Security" and below the name of the business, in larger lettering still, "Rudi Kabbel, Managing Director." The card conveyed that if not quite a prince of the industry, Kabbel was at least local nobility. His office was in Parramatta and he employed a staff of five. In Penrith he had a number of automobile dealerships, a ship's chandler who supplied boaters using the Nepean River on weekends, and a timber yard.

"My real name is Radislaw," said Kabbel, spelling it. "But Australians can't handle that."

Stanton mellowed enough to try half a cup of coffee from Kabbel's thermos. "My sons, Warwick and Scott, work for me too," the man conceded in return. A family business did not have the same credibility as one which employed total strangers.


Excerpted from A Family Madness by Thomas Keneally. Copyright © 1986 Serpentine Publishing Company Propriertary, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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