By Channa Wickremesekera
156 pages, paperback
Class, family, lust, the need to fit in and hero worship are the recurrent tropes in Sri Lankan-born Melbourne-based author Channa Wickremesekera's latest novel Tracks.
He explores the sexual confusion of a young middle-class boy of Sri Lankan descent (Sheehan) who develops a huge crush on one of the more rebellious “Anglo” boys (Robbie) in his school.
The world inhabited by the characters in the book is a harsh neoliberal one, both in terms of culture and economics. Limited social and economic choices for the working class lead to dysfunctional human beings and families.
The poor and the damaged remain poor and damaged; but there is a glimmer of hope for the middle class. Friendships, even heartfelt ones, are based less on empathy and fraternity than on the need of the “moment” — to relieve boredom, the need to hero worship or satiate one's lust.
In the end, like Prince Hal in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1, Sheehan must “grow up” and take his place as a responsible member of the middle class. To this end he must go to the right university, heed the advice of parents and make a romantic connection with a member of his own class (preferably a woman).
This is what Sheehan, our narrator, does — leaving his working class mates to their “fate” and “inevitable tragedy”.
Wickremesekera weaves this bleak tale with a fine ear for the language and mores of young people and leavens the inevitable sadness and tragedy with a sardonic wit and an honest take on adolescent sexuality.
In doing so he allows the reader to eavesdrop on a demographic and class that gets little media attention — working class who live in the outer suburbs of our ever sprawling cities. Wickremesekera gives us a fine, funny and tragic story of the times we are forced to endure — though hopefully not forever.