Metal Fish, Falling Snow
How does one interpret the world after their mother has died? Through this question, Cath Moore makes a brilliant debut with her magical-realist novel, Metal Fish, Falling Snow. On a cross-country drive to the coast, mixed-race protagonist Dylan witnesses signs that tell her to take her mother’s spirit back to Paris by boat. For Dylan’s caretaker, Pat, each kilometre only deepens his guilt. He knows there is no boat waiting at the ocean for Dylan, only her paternal Guyanese–Australian family – their connection having been severed by her estranged father almost a decade before.
What I found most compelling about Metal Fish, Falling Snow were its reflections on the complexities of race and what it means to be Black in Australia. This is highlighted most prominently in the chapter titled “White Vultures”, in which Dylan gaps it from Pat at a petrol station and into a tour bus full of elderly White women. The women confuse her for an Aboriginal girl and demand “a story from the Dreamtime”. Dylan muses: “I’m scared they might turn into real vultures if I tell them I’m not Aboriginal. But I am browner than some Koori kids ’cause I saw a girl once with blue eyes and blonde hair even though her brothers were all dark … Is skin enough to be family? No one’s ever set me straight there.” Here, Moore shows how race, identity and the groups where marginalised people find community all run deeper than skin. By doing this, the novel stares back at the White gaze and demands that it set aside its entitlement and its self-imposed authority over races and cultures it has nothing to do with.
Moore’s novel also feels heartbreakingly familiar to me. Like Dylan, I am mixed-race and lost my mother at a young age. As a child, I searched for signs that my mixed-race Tongan mother needed me from wherever I imagined her spirit to be. I lathered over my brown skin with whitening cream just as Dylan brushes over hers with white paint. I found a mother in my aunty just as Dylan finds a father in her grandfather.
Metal Fish, Falling Snow carries the pain of loss, the nuances of race and the longing for family, and interprets the world anew with immense literary skill and just a little bit of magic.
Winnie Siulolovao Dunn
Text, 272pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 22, 2020 as "Cath Moore, Metal Fish, Falling Snow".
A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.
Letters & Editorial