The Family Law: Benjamin Law
Benjamin Law is set to become the Next Big Thing in Australian non-fiction writing. More precisely, he’s set to become the Australian David Sedaris. (Or: the Asian Gen Y Australian David Sedaris.) Along with a small army of devoted Law fans, I’ve been a fan of his writing in publications as diverse as Frankie, The Monthly and The Good Weekend for a few years. So it was a real treat to finally be able to immerse myself in a whole book of him doing what he does best: writing about his eccentric, straight-talking, kinda foul-mouthed family.
Sedaris fans take note: he even has a particularly loveable-but-crazy mother, whose anecdotes number among his best. In ‘Baby Love’, she tells Ben about childbirth in graphic detail: ‘Can you imagine squeezing a lemon coming out of your penis-hole? Yes, yes! That’s what it’s like. I’d like to see a man squeeze lemons out of his penis-hole.’
This collection of humorous personal essays is the kind you’ll want to share with your work colleagues (as I did), read aloud to your family while they’re trying to watch TV (guilty, again) and guffaw over on public transport. But it’s not all belly laughs. Many of these stories are also touchingly poignant, or subtly confronting. Ben writes frankly and often with tongue firmly in cheek about being a child of divorced parents, and fitting in as a gay teenager or as an Asian Australian (holidaying at Queensland theme parks, he and his siblings ‘would do our best to distinguish ourselves from the Asian tourists’).
In one affecting essay, ‘Skeletons’, he reflects on the period when many of his relatives were swept up by the federal police and deported back to Hong Kong, which they’d fled in the lead-up to the Chinese takeover of 1997. His mother’s elderly parents were the last to leave. ‘Mum was four months pregnant by then. When they left, her parents asked her what the use of crying was.’
What is it that makes Benjamin Law’s writing so good? It’s the flair for language. It’s the sharp wit. It’s the open warmth. It’s the blend of the thoughtful, the silly and the affecting. It’s all of these things, in one package.