The Windy Season: A bleak study on the roles of masculinity in our society
The multi-talented Sam Carmody’s debut novel, The Windy Season, explores the nebulous boundaries of Australian masculinity through the microcosm of a small town on WA’s coast, Stark.
The story opens with the protagonist, Paul’s, observations that “There are things out there worse than sharks” in light of the discovery of a body tied to a marker above an old shipwreck in the ocean. With the story that follows framed as a missing person search (Paul’s brother having disappeared without any clues as to why or where he might be) the reader is left to wonder for much of the book whether we already know the answer to the mystery.
Carmody’s intent, however, is not to simply deliver an answer to the question of what has happened to Paul’s brother (the ending, in fact, is frustratingly open-ended) but to explore along the way a young man’s fruitless search for role models in a society barren of available or willing ones.
Even in his own family, Paul lacks a ready mentor. His missing older brother Elliot, who he clearly looks up to, appears to have been reclusive, aloof, keeping his younger brother at a distance with false, gruesome stories of sharks and the ocean – even going so far as to move seven hundred kilometres away to the coastal town of Stark. Paul’s father is also distant, lacking emotional engagement with his family in the midst of a crisis, with many of Paul’s insights into his own father derived from voyeuristic rifling through his computer rather than from direct interactions. While both are later revealed to be struggling with mental health issues – depression and dissociative disorder – it is an allegory for the thwarted attempts of young men in Australian society to find role models.
In the town of Stark, Paul fares no better. His cousin Jake is consumed by rage and self-hate, his fury a physical presence on the boat that he takes out crayfishing every day. The other fishermen are worse still: their lives steeped in violence, drugs and alcohol; their only pastime hanging around the town’s bar “with all the menace of pack animals”.
...their lives steeped in violence, drugs and alcohol; their only pastime hanging around the town’s bar “with all the menace of pack animals”
Michael, the German deckhand who Paul works alongside on the boat, is one of the few friendly characters Paul comes across in Stark, but he too has his own issues: his life and choices are a violent rejection of his father as a role model, having moved halfway across the world to a remote Western Australian town to escape the life that has been laid out for him.
Carmody navigates us, and Paul, through the murky waters of this landscape and the reader, if not Paul, comes to slowly realize that there is nothing for these young men, these boys, who grow up around such aggression, menace, self-loathing and disinterest to look up to. The men around them are equally lost. The German deckhand’s observations are astute:
“All the scared little men in this place, trying to own everything… Scared of their women. Scared of sharks. Scared of foreigners. Terrified of the past. The future, too. Always scared and trying to act so fucking tough… The whole place, Stark. It is a land of children.”
It is a description that could be equally directed at the broader Australian population, where young men and boys are left to flounder in a society void of father figures, learning only the stereotypes of masculinity.
Paul’s own frustrated journey – his inability to find a role model amidst “ten thousand kilometres of coastline” – is echoed in two striking anecdotes in the book. The first, of two ten year old boys playing on the town’s jetty, their pastime to stamp on blowfish caught on their lines, “excited, as if aware of the girl watching them”, is almost a direct parallel to an earlier episode where a man, Roo Dog, attacks a city boy with casual violence, driving an empty bottle into the boy’s face in front of the audience of his watching girlfriend. The second anecdote is found in the first person narrative of ‘Swiss’, the right-hand man of a bikie gang leader called The President. Swiss, after travelling across Australia’s breadth in the company of The President, who tells Swiss he is like a son to him, shoots The President and leaves him on the side of the road – a bleak message for the future of masculinity in our society.
The Windy Season by Sam Carmody is published by Allen & Unwin.