It’s part of being human that we try to fix the things that seem wrong in our life. Even if we go about it in the wrong way, the effort put into fixing things can be significant. But sometimes the ‘thing’ is just a bit too hard. What then?
Shane Thamm has written a book about a boy trying to fix something that’s just a bit too hard. He’s got a physical condition known as Pectus Excavatum. A flatmate with PE back in my single years called it ‘sunken chest’ and was well stocked with jokes about Davey Jones. Our cohort took little interest in his chest and the flatmate was pretty laconic about it as well.
Not so the Jack (Sticks) of My Private Pectus. Sticks finds the condition embarrassing and intolerable, and he is constantly having to put his fixing skills into action. Touble is, he’s not much good at fixing up his life and his fixit attempts leave more damage. It’s just a bit too hard. So he translates his fixing ability to that common male metaphor, the motor car.
The car does not belong to Sticks but to his best friend. A couple of high school kids doing up an old Nissan Bluebird. It’s a bit of a bomb but Sticks proves up to it and so rebuilding the car becomes the bones upon which Sticks builds some pretty significant expectations.
Thamm has thrown another fixit dilemma into the story. Sticks’ dad. A lot of books about boys becoming men feature the father son relationship, but Thamm has given this father an extra edge. He’s also trying to fix his life. And the bones upon which he tries to build a new self is being the coach of the footy team at Sticks’ school. Does Sticks like footy? Sorrry, can’t tell you that. Some things you just have to find out for yourself.
Men do this, you know. They form these attachments to exoskeletons such as junky old Nissan Bluebirds and footy teams in the hope that some meaning will emerge to satisfy their inner vacuum. They don’t work. But it’s the male way (men’s not so secret business) and will have to do until a deeper reality comes along in some recognisable form.
Sticks finds that his relationship with the mate’s Nissan folds up underneath him. His own fault, of course. Everything else is also going wrong and it seems as if disaster has struck on several levels. But when everything happens at once he is forced to find his own reality and to rely on that, no matter the outcome. Without the Bluebird he starts to find something that only one other person can see within him. Trouble is, he’s also pissed that person off something fierce. And if there is one area of life that Sticks proves he doesn’t understand, it’s girls.
I mentioned the dad. His exoskeleton also fails. They all do in the end. And in the end we are forced back into our own reality, often enough a reality that we have denied for yonks. It’s a bit hard to tell if it’s a shrinking or an emergence, but Sticks’ dad manages to chuck it all in and tell the truth at last. Sadness or victory? Make up your own mind.
My Private Pectus is the story of a teenage boy struggling with a physical condition, but underneath there is the archetype of a father / son struggle for dominance. The toxic nature of this particular story is that each one is trying to define himself in terms of what the other is not. It’s normal for the son to do that, but not the father.
Shane Thamm has given us a story peppered with the good natured humour of teenagers who just want to be mates without the complications of responsibility, parents, or school. Between the beer, the bong, and the talk about girls, things seem to go along easily enough most of the time. But there are a few crunch times along the way.
The voice of Sticks is realistic as we see his inner conflicts and frustrations boil over into some pretty dicey behaviour. The story is well told and holds together well, taking us through some unexpected territory in the telling.
Oh yeah. It’s not really about ribs and sternums and cartilage out of control. But you already knew that.