Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cage Life by Karin Cox: Excerpt and Review: Orangeberry Tour Stop


What happens when life doesn’t turn out as planned? This collection of two evocative stories explores the choices and compromises we make in life and in love, and how they can trap or liberate us, depending on our mindset. Each story comes with an unexpected twist that makes reading all the way to the end imperative.
In “Cage Life,” first published by [untitled] in 2010 as “Still Life”, a young mum feels like a prisoner in her own home. Her decision to escape the bonds of marriage and motherhood, just for a few hours, has unexpected consequences that force her to a re-evaluate what it really means to be loved, to be married, and to be free.
In “The Usurper,” unconditional love is explored within the boundaries of age and longing. Basil is in his eighties, with an illustrious career in law enforcement behind him, when he meets Carla — a beautiful, energetic and much younger mistress. But when Simon appears on the scene, can Basil keep her or does she, in fact, keep him?
Buy now @ Amazon
Genre – Short Stories / Literary Fiction
Rating – PG13

The night was humid, pregnant with the anticipation of sweat-soaked sheets. When we were younger, this was exactly the kind of night that inspired lust— usually on the premise that if you were hot and sweaty anyway you had less to object to. Tonight, Damien’s back was to me, set firmly away, too straight for comfort.
I was too hot, he complained. But I didn’t feel it. It had been almost two years, yet his desire remained as flaccid as his temperament.
The fan clacked on every spin, a ruminant chewing up the air and spitting out a rarefied version. I could not sleep. I lay with my eyes closed, watching the paisley swirls of semi-consciousness paint my inner eyelids with vaguely forming dreams. Replaying my life over the past twenty-two months—the sheer waste of it all was the only soporific.
My mother is convinced Damien is cheating.
“All men are cheats,” she says, starting a monologue I have heard too often before. Where she got the notion I do not know. My father never cheated, not even at cards. But my mother’s mantra seems to be an inheritance, passed down from her mother, from generation to generation, like the family china. It made more sense to my mother than the other alternatives, but I knew better. Damien was not playing away. He was not even playing.
* * *
We first met in a dilapidated Queenslander in St Lucia. It was filled to the brim with students, and in the fashion of most student digs, it was a house weary of freeloaders. Every summer the expanding tin roof complained about the expanding household.
Inside, the house was an orgy in hardwood. Rooms shot off like entwined limbs, tangling in every direction to escape the mayhem of the living room and kitchen. Smoke blossomed from these areas—the result of experimental student cooking and of the kilograms of weed that passed through the house weekly and jaundiced the walls. The wall near the stove was a work of art in peeling saffron.
In the lounge room, cornices crumbled in the shadows of the ceiling, ready to pull from the gummy wall paneling like tar-stained teeth. Dusty louvers on the built-in veranda mirrored the drooping eyelids of the house’s inhabitants, several of whom usually occupied the L-shaped brown couch (nicknamed the Cow thanks to its furry cushions and affiliation with grass).
The Cow was prime real estate for stoners. Like clockwork, a joint made its journey from the coffee table along the length of the couch at least once every thirty minutes. Newcomers were bound by house rules to join the end of the line on the Cow’s furry flanks.
It was difficult to say who would be in any one room at any one time—night or day. The household would not have differed much had it been composed of bonobos. Most couplings were neither surprising nor long-lived. The less-than-private shagging inevitably evolved into equally noisy arguments and public break-ups.
I was one of the more elusive female members. Almost a virgin compared to some of the tenants. I moved in during my second year, shortly after my father’s death, and the constant stream of people and drugs helped take my mind off things. Anyway, I was one of the few residents who attended university on occasion, so I was hardly ever in.
Pretty much everyone accepted 158 Biloga Street as a household railway station without the trains (although Cherry, from the back room, was often referred to as Central Station—everything went through her). She was long and lean from an opiate addiction, with dirty blonde hair that was brushed once a week at the same time she washed it. Surprisingly, she was in charge of collecting and paying the rent.
Damien moved in around November 1999, and quickly hated it. He was straight to my curved. Sensible to my giddy. A suit to my short skirt. None of the posse, as our eclectic hoard was known to each other, liked him. My friend Liz called Damien “The Omen,” even in front of him. He drifted through the smoke with a sullen indifference, rarely talking except to chastise someone or to hand over his share of rent. As you can imagine, despite his preppy good looks (or maybe because of them) his reluctance to join in soon wore thin. I was the only member of the “posse-pussy” (a special sub-group reserved for female residents) who bothered to make him feel welcome.
A few months later, on one of the rare occasions when he had joined in one of our parties, I found myself naked and squeamish in his waterbed going through his photo albums and noting, with faint amusement, that I featured heavily in shots taken on the premises. He was seriously into me, and before long not just figuratively.
By June 2000, Damien and I had moved into a love nest in Tingalpa. The house was a quaint, architectural-designed one-bedroom. It was a Queenslander in bonsai—high on stilts, still with a veranda and iron lace but not large enough to swing a cat. We had two. For a while, life in the “Doll’s House” (as we called it) was bliss. Damien had started work with a city firm, a career choice that suited his dyed-in-the-wool conservatism. My newly red-haired self was employed as a subeditor, working out of an office on Elizabeth Street. I spent my days proofreading Brisvegas’s free magazines, chronicling the local gig scene and editing articles on tattoos and extreme sports. His collars and cufflinks juxtaposed with my baby doll dress teamed with fishnets, Docs and a nose ring. It was a match made, if not in heaven, then in the dreamy after world of some parallel universe.
Few of my friends, Liz included, were able to see what brought us together or what kept us there. They conceded he was attractive, in that “too groomed” city suit way that masked his sexual prowess. (He may have been conservative in some ways, but in the early years of our relationship, years we both refer to now as “before Kat,” sex certainly wasn’t one of them.) Plus he was kind, and, if a little humourless, extremely generous. He took care of the cobwebs that would have otherwise filled whole corners of my life. He submitted our tax returns, opened our bank accounts, photocopied our passports before we left for our honeymoon. He bought bin-liners—and I filled them with things that should have been put in the recycling bin, or so he told me. He even made a list: milk bottles (washed); newspapers (please fold rather than scrunch); aluminum cans (please crush vertically); wine bottles (rinsed; NEVER WINE CASK BLADDERS—that means you). It struck me at the time as wanton overkill, but mostly his obsessive-compulsive ways were a source of humor for me.
My family life had been erratic for as long as I could remember. I was the product of an unlikely romance between a museum curator in ornithology and a 1970s bikini model. Mismatched unions were hardly front-page news to me. To avoid their fights, as a teenager I cultivated an offbeat irreverence for anyone who actually gave a shit. Perhaps my love for Damien was symptomatic of finally leaving behind that teenage apathy, appreciating the fact that he did give a shit. Once.


3 Stars

I was surprised by this book.  The subject matter was incredibly dark – Uglier and grimmer than I was expecting.  Both stories deal with serious subjects and are told using a no-nonsense type of prose that is succinct and strangely compelling.  The writing and story execution is very well done, and the stories each critically examine different social issues at a personal level, though they both explore the idea of feeling trapped, unfulfilled and lonely. 

I read the entire book in a single afternoon.  After finishing Still Life I felt an almost suffocating sense of melancholia and sadness. I could not identify with the main character to any great extent.  I felt more empathy for her maligned spouse. This couple never should have married, in my opinion.  I read on with the thought that perhaps the next story would be less intense. 

The Usurper evoked in me a feeling of hopeless disillusionment and inescapable abandonment.  I really felt Simon’s fear, consternation and frailty; I wanted him to find some comfort in the worst way. Instead, he remained trapped in a situation from which there is only one escape really.

As I stated, both stories are well-written and explore subject matter that most of us can relate to, at least to some extent, on some level.  Personally, I read mainly to escape and I prefer to be left feeling happy, or at least with a feeling of satisfaction or the sense that justice has prevailed.  These left me saddened and morose – not feelings I personally wish to hold on to.  Thought-provoking and disturbing but, honestly speaking, not something I would care to re-read.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest review.  

Reviewed by Laurie-J

Karin Cox is an Australian author who has spent more than 15 years working as an editor in both Australia and the UK. She has published more than 28 titles across a range of genres (from travel guides to creative non fiction, to natural history and children’s fiction) with Steve Parish Publishing and New Holland Publishers Australia, and has also recently self-published Cage Life, Growth and Hey, Little Sister on Amazon. Working as a freelance editor and a full-time mum to her young daughter, she is currently midway through a YA trilogy, a paranormal romance, a romance novel, and a dystopian YA novel.

Connect with Karin Cox on Facebook & Twitter

Next Stops
9th February – Author Interview & Book Feature at Kaisy Daisy’s Corner
16th February – Book Excerpt at Fighting Monkey Press
23rd February – Twitter Blast with OB Book Tours
2nd March – Guest Post at Author’s Friend
9th March – Author Interview at The Book Connoisseur

1 comment:

Write with you said...

Thanks for reviewing, Laurie. I'm curious as to whether you read to the end of the second story? There is a substantial twist that actually makes the story a lot more light-hearted than it first appears.

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. Better luck next time.