A loosely linked series of auto-biographical essays by Brisbane based (yes Brisbane!) gay, Chinese Australian, Benjamin Law. David Sedaris light with an Australian aspect.
Given that identity humour is such a focus of “The Family Law”, it’s difficult to avoid applying a stereotypical overlay onto Benjamin Law’s writing. In fact, “The Family Law” isn’t a single literary stereotype, but manages to position itself within three distinct auto-biographical cannons; Growing up in Qld, Growing up Gay and Growing Up Asian. This isn’t a necessarily problem to my mind, I’m a strong believer that most clichés became clichéd because there was something at their core that worked.
That being said, if you’re working in an area that’s been well covered in the past, you either need to have a slightly new angle or to execute extremely well. Sadly, I think this is where “The Family Law” falls down. It’s not that it’s a bad book, in fact I quite enjoyed it, but I just couldn’t avoid the reoccurring feeling that “This has been done better before”. A humorous autobiographical account of growing up in Brisbane was done better by Hugh Lunn’s, “Over the Top With Jim”. Alice Pung’s, “Unpolished Gem” did growing up Asian in Australia both more amusingly and more movingly. And David Sedaris (“Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim”) and Augusten Burroughs (“Magical Thinking, but “Dry” in particular) perfected the mass market Gay autobiographical essay series years ago.
I like Benjamin Law as a writer want to read more of his stuff in the future, but there are a number of books covering similar terrain that I’d recommend before “The Family Law”.
“We preferred theme parks. For parents raising five children, theme parks made so much sense. They were clean and safe. There were clearly designated activities, and auditory and visual stimuli that transcended racial, language and age barriers. Also, you could buy heaps of useless shit. This is an exercise at which Asians of all backgrounds seem to naturally excel.”
“Whether it was a birthday, a wedding or a marriage, a lot of Chinese parents took the same approach to gift-giving, one shared by Mafia hitmen and pirates: just hand over thick wads of cash.”
While his brother listened to In Utero..
“I immersed myself in another seminal album that was released the same year: Mariah Carey’s Music Box, a serious and studied meditation on love (‘Dreamlover’), bravery (‘Hero’), loyalty (‘Any Time You Need a Friend’) and profound loss (‘Without You’). “
“After I was born, my parents reached an exciting turning point in their marriage: they began to fight openly and without reserve, like two cats thrown in a sack and swung around wildly…. Every marriage starts with passive aggression, but couples soon realise that being passive requires effort. It’s easier to be openly hostile.”