Dandelion Whine

For plants, Dandelions are pretty well developed. They have three basic survival mechanisms:

1. A very long, thick and penetrating central tap root (children, please!) which, if left in the ground after the plant is apparently pulled out, will simply grow a replacement. Bigger, better, and more resilient than before. And it will hate you.

2. Pretty yellow flowers which turn into adorable fluffy seed balls. Such seed balls have proven irresistible to juvenile (and not so juvenile) members of the human species, who delight in blowing them to the winds in the hope that a wish might be granted. Note: Unless your wish is for many, many more fluffy magic wish balls, this is a lie.

3. Very fine, silk-like hairs growing over the surface area of each broad green leaf. Note: “silk-like” is not the same as “silk”. After attempting to pull out the dandelions, these hairs often result in itching, irritation and, should one be caught beneath a fingernail or slid into the skin, festering wounds. Yes, not so much like hair, really. More like whisper-thin thorns. Evil dandelion spines of infection and possible death.

In addition to these native traits, Dandelions also tend to cultivate an alliance with the surrounding grass in which they grow. Grass is stupid. It believes whatever floricidal words the Dandelion tells it and obligingly wraps itself around the leaves and roots of long-standing specimens, adding its own weight to the strength of the Dandelion’s own root system. Apparently grass has failed to notice that the Dandelion’s sole aim is the absolute takeover of all available lawn space which will, naturally, result in the eventual extermination of all other plant life. Grass is really, really stupid.

Fortunately, Dandelions haven’t yet developed the ability to make and use tools.

Human beings have.

In particular, the two pronged, lever-equipped, digging and extraction tool required to reach down into the soil to target a Dandelion’s root base and forcibly remove the plant entire and screaming from the ground. Okay, maybe not screaming. But it’s fun to imagine.

So that was my afternoon. Two buckets of Dandelions later and the backyard is still only half done. There is still the bottom half down near the BBQ area where the really huge mutant plants have all but taken over. I think they were muttering among themselves as they watched the eviction of their brothers in leaf. Bastards, their turn will come tomorrow.

Providing they haven’t developed opposable thumbs by then …

twenty-six lies/one truth

Last night, roughly ten minutes after midnight, I finished reading twenty-six lies/one truth by Ben Peek. I’d started it yesterday morning, kept sneaking back to it during the day – pages 48 & 49 have tiny brown specks on them now; salad dressing splatter from lunch (sorry Ben) – and couldn’t go to sleep without reading to the very last page.

twenty-six lies/one truth is awesome. And I don’t mean that in the stupid, popsicle way the kidlets are using it to describe the latest flavour of cola product. I mean, it is awesome. Take a moment to clear your cache and consider the classical meaning of that word. Literally, that which inspires awe, admiration and wonder, and possibly just a little bit of intimidation and apprehension.

twenty-six lies/one truth is fucking awesome.

Go, get thee to Amazon and buy it now.

I didn’t buy it at Amazon. I bought it in the Dealers Room at Conflux 4 this year, primarily because Andrew Macrae was manning the table and I got talking to him, and the book was sitting right there beside Cock and Rynemonn and various volumes of Orb – all of which I already owned and which you should as well, if you don’t already – and his typewriter art cover is so damn cool, and I just wanted to buy something else. You know, conventions, dealers room, spending of money … it just happens. So I forked over my cash and got Andy to sign his artist bio at the back, and took it home with the rest of my convention booty. Where it sat on my desk until yesterday.

Now, here’s my embarrassing admission. I meant, rather vaguely but with solid good intentions, to purchase twenty-six lies/one truth when it first came out last last year. Over the inter-webby thing from the USA. But it was sort of pricey and the Aussie dollar was riding low in the water and I didn’t have a lot of spare cash at the time. Then I saw copies at Convergence 2 this year and, hmm. Well, it’s odd. The book isn’t a standard paperback or trade format. It’s softcover and relatively thin (150 or so pages) and, well, floppy. Like a baby stingray is floppy. And when I flicked through and saw the text written up as apparently random alphabetical entries peppered with cartoonish illustrations, it reminded me, instantly, of a rather shallow high-school text book. The sort you get given in lower higher school and are made to summarise on hot afternoons in during last period when not even your teacher can be bothered coming up with real work. Sluggish ceiling fans in first floor classrooms where the hot air has risen and remains trapped, and the clock hands don’t seem to move at all, and the best you can hope for is that a confused wasp might buzz through an open window and you’ll all get to evacuate into the equally hot but significantly less stale air of the balcony outside.

So I bought the latest issue of Orb instead and left Ben Peek’s funny-looking book where it sat. It looked like a bit of wank, anyway. The back of book stated it was, “the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody”, and then listed a whole bunch of apparently random words and names, including several repetitions of “cunt” presumably for shock value. Wank, surely. Like the insanely-formatted House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Wank.

Except that House of Leaves grew on me. Not grew in the sense of fungus or mold. More like a feral garden in a new rental house. One that was a real bitch to de-weed and cut back – especially the geranium that had decided it should be a tree – such a bitch that you couldn’t be bothered actually planting anything new, or doing much with it at all, only to find it shooting up once dormant little plants of its own accord. And after a while, you decide that you quite like it – even the monster geranium – that it’s interesting and unusual and beautiful, and it doesn’t matter a bee’s twat whether it looks like a “real” garden or not.

That sort of growing.

So I saw twenty-six lies/one truth again at Conflux. I probably wouldn’t have bought it that time, either, except for Andy Macrae’s Ditmar-Award-Winning-Artwork which I really do love. So, yes, a book judged by – or at least bought upon the strength of – its cover. Despite its baby stingray format. Stupid, huh?

This book is brilliant, and it shouldn’t be. What it should be is a piece of wank, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it absolutely would be. But Ben Peek is not a lesser writer. And twenty-six lies/one truth is a stunning, articulate, and emotionally rich novel. (Yes, it is too a novel, and pickled eggs to anyone who says it isn’t. Unless you like pickled eggs. In which case, dog turds to you. And if you like dog turds, you have bigger problems and I shall leave you alone to think what you want.) Of course, I recognise the fact that my own agnostic, left-wing sympathies are in close accord with the author’s and this no doubt added to the pleasure of reading certain sections of the book, but this is in no way the whole story. twenty-six lies/one truth is quite simply a highly intelligent, exquisitely crafted and wholly original book that manages to creep up behind the reader and land a sucker punch when least expected. And then it makes you think about it.

I’m not going to say anything about the plot/content/narrative; you can read the reviews and summaries on the above Amazon link if you really want, but I’d recommend against it. Suffice to say, you need to read this book. You really do. (If you’re a writer, beware. This is one of those works that makes you despair of ever creating something of similar worth.) Wait, okay, I will just say one thing about the content:

the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody

That, right there? That’s at least three of those twenty-six lies already and you haven’t even opened the cover yet. By the end, you won’t even care what that one truth is.