In Kocan’s latest bleak novel (The Treatment and the Cure, 1985, etc.), a teenager, down and out in Australia, is sustained by his fantasies.
Three people arrive at the train station of a large city: The woman, the youth and the boy. We don’t know their names, nor that of the city. They are fleeing Vladimir, an abusive husband and father. The 14-year-old youth knows he doesn’t have the will to fight him. What inner strength he has derives from Diestl, a German soldier in a war movie. The Germans have lost, and Diestl is on enemy terrain, but he still has his Schweisser sub-machine-gun. Diestl the self-reliant loner consoles the youth through thick and thin. The youth gets a job in the country, on a sheep ranch, while his mother finds work elsewhere upstate. He’s a slow learner, and his boss is short-tempered; he’s fired. He doesn’t fare any better on a wheat farm, or as a cleaner at a movie theater (let go because he smells bad). Daytimes he’s in parks or visiting museums; some nights he finds crummy hotels, others he sleeps on the street. His thoughts revolve around Diestl, the Anglo-Saxon King Harold (another outnumbered hero) and pin-up Grace Kelly. He cries a lot—the least thing sets him off—and he’s never had a girlfriend. There are opportunities to explore his sexuality (with a girl on the wheat farm, with some gay guys he meets while clipping cotton), but Kocan’s not interested in that coming-of-age story. That wouldn’t matter if he replaced it with something else, but he doesn’t, so we get a slow fizzle. One fellow lodger says the youth is “a young tiger that doesn’t know whether to hide or kill,” and the youth does buy a rifle, but Kocan, who in 1966 attempted to assassinate an Australian politician and subsequently spent time in a hospital for the criminally insane, must have a problem imagining his crybaby pulling the trigger, for he leaves everything up in the air.
The youth doesn’t have the spirit to carry this tale of woe.