Too Much Lip
It’s the beginning of a Western: an outlaw on the run from police rides into town with a bag of ill-gotten loot. In Melissa Lucashenko’s wonderful Too Much Lip, the outlaw is Kerry Salter, her ride is a stolen Harley and she’s returned to her hometown, Durrongo in northern New South Wales, because her Pop is dying, her girlfriend’s copped five years for armed robbery – and also because Kerry herself needs a place to lie low. But with her demanding family, crooked politicians, sleazy property developers, dodgy estate agents and a hot, six-packed whitefella leaving her “burbling-jumping-fizzing on the inside”, Kerry soon finds small-town life is one big headache.
Where to start with the delights of Too Much Lip? It’s an angry book and glorious for it. Kerry’s had enough of the racist town and racist country and of her freeloading bully of a brother, Ken. She’s sick of the police, who didn’t bother investigating her sister Donna’s disappearance years before, but mostly she’s sick of thieving white people. The system’s rigged and Kerry knows it: “Steal a million acres and you’re a pioneer hero with a brass statue in the council chambers, but pinch a car or a mobile phone and you’re some kind of fucking monster.” Kerry’s always been told she has too much lip but she’s ready to take back what belongs to her, and to her people.
Generations of savagery have been inflicted on Kerry’s family and Lucashenko makes it logical that this violence also turns inwards, towards each other, in shocking displays of brutality.
Lucashenko’s dialogue is absolutely true yet fabulously entertaining. Martina the estate agent, unimpressed with her listings: “Five shotgun shacks in outer Bumfuck”; Kerry’s gay brother, successful city-slicker Black Superman, spotting spunky Steve: “They all straight till they ain’t”; Ken, on finding out the mayor intends to build a prison on sacred land: “Oppressed peoples must be the agents of their own liberation … Mum, you gonna heat up them party pies or what? Me stomach thinks me throat’s cut.” Each character is a gem, including Kerry’s tarot-reader Mum, Pretty Mary, who reads The Watchtower and sits in a teepee at the Patto markets, and Kerry’s sweet anorexic nephew Donny, entranced by whales and computers in equal measure.
Lucashenko is an award-winner who’s never quite found the readership she’s deserved. Here’s hoping this darkly funny and fierce book fixes that. LS
UQP, 328pp, $29.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 4, 2018 as "Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip". Subscribe here.