The Straight Banana by Tim Wilson.
Wellington: VUP (2016).
Reviewed by Carolyn McCurdie.
Auckland writer, Tim Wilson, is the author of two novels, Their Faces Were Shining (2010) and News Pigs (2014). His latest, The Straight Banana, is a prequel to News Pigs. From Wilson’s background in journalism, and his seven years of experience as TVNZ’s US correspondent, comes this exuberant satire of life chasing the big news stories and personal glory in New York. The main character is Tom Milde, US correspondent for a TV network in PLC, or Plucky Little Country. This is geographically near Aotearoa New Zealand, but you turn right before you get there. PLC is known for its cheese, the passion its people have for the sport of curling, and for the nobility and humility of these people. Tom Milde is out of his depth in New York.
The story opens with his brave (under the circumstances) observation that, “There is no bad time to be drunk, nude, and tied to the load-bearing column of an agreeable stranger’s agreeably déclassé pad on New York’s Lower East side, but perhaps the very best time is 3.38 am …” However, his thoughts become less sunny as he considers the events, the pressures, that have led him into this situation. His best friend, VB, was trying to give him constructive advice when he accused Tom of being, “… a bumpkin in a big town that asks only one question: Are you an Alpha, pal, or are you a Beta?”
Tom strives to be Alpha. He goes to the parties, he networks, ingratiates himself with the Big Names, but, swept aside by the ruthlessness of one toned and perfumed Alpha another, he remains inconsequential. His friend, Phoebe, consoles him with a straight banana. From this point on, Tom is never without a straight banana. Other people have them too. The price goes up. He, and he alone, notices their strange properties. Alpha people became more Beta. His own character becomes more Alpha. His full-blown addiction develops. But is it a plot? Is it an attack on the USA? Tom thinks so. He has the scoop.
This is a crazy story. Tim Wilson tells it with a jumpy, manic energy and creates a world where no craziness is too bizarre. It took me a while to adjust and it can be hard to follow, which did seem only appropriate. But then I began to appreciate the deftness. These Alpha New Yorkers are rabid, but Wilson inserts small human touches that keep them real (just). The sad, ever-failing figure of Tom Milde, a poet and all-round gentle soul who never gives up his aspirations to make it big in this big town, held my sympathy at all times. I laughed out loud. It’s more than funny; it’s clever, a rollicking tale with clear links to our crazy real world.
Wilson even countered my irritations. Footnotes: On some pages there are so many that my eyes were on constant swivel. Swearing: The characters do. But they don’t. In deference (perhaps) to the dear, sensitive reader addressed from time to time by the narrator, this is comic book swearing: $%#!! But it’s grammatical, so that buried in all of that are correct verb endings. I found this hard to read, and given that there’s little restraint modifying other aspects of the story, I couldn’t see what the reason for it might be. However, this is a sensitive writer. Towards the end, the reader is offered a survey – “We want you to know we care.” Here, you are invited to express an opinion on footnotes, swearing, plot and characters. There’s an address (Victoria University Press, as it happens). How would you not be mollified by that?
In short, despite misgivings at the beginning of reading The Straight Banana, by the end I was completely charmed. It’s a wild, enjoyable ride.
Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer of fiction and poetry. She has had published: The Unquiet, a children’s novel, (Dunedin: Longacre Press: 2006); Albatross, a short story collection (e-publisher Rosa Mira Books: 2014); and Bones in the Octagon, a poetry collection (Makāro Press: 2015). Carolyn is active in Dunedin’s live poetry scene.
First published takahe ??