"Moran's writing is intense and muscular, with opalescent flashes of color and brilliance. Beautifully composed."
"The clash between Harry's jaded sensibility and the unpredictable world around him is consistently entertaining. And the two loves of his life, one a contentious and sexy journalist, the other a deceptively prim schoolteacher, are all the more endearing for being believably scarred. A worthy follow-up to his emotionally fraught novels 'Water, Carry Me' and 'The Man in the Box', this offering delivers a difficult but engrossing message through a distinctive voice."
-Washington Post Book World
"Harry Hull, the Australian narrator, never looked carefully at anything, and now, 'on the wrong side of forty', it is too late for him to undo the damage his willful blindness caused. Moran writes grimly, though brilliantly... captures the frustration and pathos of Harry's inability to cope."
"Harry's bluff, vernacular voice never sugarcoats his impoverished personality. The irony of the denouement, and its realistic assessment of Harry's future, is genuinely affecting."
"In Harry, Moran has created an anti-hero whose easy-going outward personality clashes with the inner turmoil he experiences. Well written and cohesive -themes of sight, memory and the lack thereof run throughout the novel, 'What Harry Saw' is another winner for Thomas Moran."
WHAT HARRY SAW
HERE'S A FAIR ONE: born blind.
Give that beauty half a moment, see where it takes you. If it isn't near to tears, if you reckon it's just a tragic turn that sometimes happens to somebody else's kid, if you don't damn it as a scabby betrayal of life's promise, then I've grave doubts you deserve the air you're breathing.
Give it another moment. Imagine, if you're able, that you've been struck blind this very instant. Shocking, yeah? You're feeling really sorry for yourself.
But you've had your go, haven't you? You're not facing a total blank. You possess images of everyone and everything you ever cared for. You can put together a nice mental video, play it forward or backward just as you please, even freeze-frame the best bits. That should help you keep your grip on the world and where you once stood in it, where you might still stand.
Blind from birth? Could you ever be truly sure you were anywhere real at all? Or would you feel you were wandering in Dreamtime -as the Aboriginals who haven't gone urban still conceive- yet with none of the ancient abo prehension to compass you through it? Not that any of us fully understand this Dreamtime. It's only a word. Some people here like to casually drop it into cocktail chatter, as if that proves they've some spiritual depth within their Prada-sheathed, tennis-toned bodies.
QUITE A RANT I suppose, from a perfect stranger. It's shame actually. Of the bitterest sort. A long time back in a place I never should have gone I saw a blind baby naked and crawling loose and aimless on the beaten earth floor of a hut. And I laughed.
I thought of a grub. Couldn't help it. A soft, squirmy grub, that's what the pitiful little creature first brought to mind. I laughed, right in from of the poor kid's mother. I cringe over that reflex still. I expect I'll always regret that cruelty I can never undo or make good.
So I tell myself there are more terrible fates. For kids whose bodies and brains are perfect except for those sightless eyes, I've convinced myself life would be difficult but far from hopeless. It really couldn't be as if you weren't in the world, could it? As you grew, everything would eventually make itself known. You'd feel the ferocious summer sun on your face, the cool relieving winds and fat rain of the westerlies. You'd gradually learn to navigate your immediate geography, and the shapes and textures of objects there, by touch. You'd come to relish flavors: grilled king prawns, maybe, or a perfectly ripe banana, or a nice cold beer. Every day you'd be awash in aromas, from sweet-blooming jacarandas to reeking traffic exhaust, and know the messages they carry. You'd come to recognize tones of affection, or irritation, or joy, or sarcasm, or sincerity in people's voices. You'd get the news of the day from radio, some ease and enjoyment from Mozart or Gorecki, Midnight Oil or Hunters & Collectors. You'd discover books and the beauty of stories through your fingertips, or the audio versions. No reason you couldn't master any number of trades or professions, up to and including the law or quantum physics, if you were clever enough and inclined that way.
You would never, ever have to dread the coming of night.
And if you struck it really lucky, you might even get to know the lovely intimate smoothness of someone's skin, someone whose body is rich with amazing possibilities, someone whose presence envelopes you with love. Someone with whom you might very well have babies of your own one day.
Someone like Lucy, who gave those gifts to me.
Beyond all that, I've the strongest intimation that not having had a single glimpse of this bloody world would give you the rarest sort of innocence and a wonderful state of grace, for all your life.
Proof? Well, it's pretty bloody funny, isn't it, how many of us with perfect vision would give almost anything never to have seen some of the stuff we've seen. It's hilarious how we go on and on trying any anodyne -from drink and drugs to the Dalai Lama- that might exile certain memories to an area of permanent darkness. If you know anyone at all who wouldn't love to erase a few bits of his life, who doesn't dearly wish certain scenes had never been played, your circle of acquaintances must include a saint.
My personal shortlist for total oblivion? Easy enough. Besides my heartless reaction to one blind infant, there are about three hundred days of my dad's final year of life. Lucy's eyes flashing cold and hard as a diamond for an instant when she told me she was pregnant. A beautiful old violin that never should have been lifted from its case. And a young girl's fall. Falling in a way that never looked like a fall, holding a dancer's line with her body even as a f..king dry-rotted fence slat suddenly snapped under her slight weight high on South Head. Even as she plunged down that sheer cliff, combers hard as the hands of God rising up to crush her.
MY NAME'S HARRY, by the bye. I'm just on the wrong side of forty now. I've lived in just one place since I was born, which I don't regret though it seems to be a negative distinction in my generation.
Where, exactly? Down under. The Antipodes, the end of the earth -which suits me, because I reckon being so far away from anywhere is the chief reason Australia's remained as pleasant and lovely as it has. When we call the place Oz, and we frequently do, it isn't entirely a joke.
My dad lived all his life as well in this same ordinary brick house in a western suburb of Sydney called Ashfield. His dad bought the place when he returned from the Great War minus a proper digestive system (thanks to serious dysentery) and an eye gouged out entire by a Turk grenade fragment.
Dad's own war souvenir was a hole in his left cheek. Nothing really disgusting but still a hole about the size of a bottle cap. You could see a bit of gum and false teeth through it. He was fine eating anything solid, so long as he remembered to take small bites and chew carefully on the right side of his mouth. But liquids were a problem. He had to drink his beer through a straw, which was the worst of it as far as he was concerned.
He acquired that little decoration in a truly pestilential place: the Kokoda Track, New Guinea, 1942. The Japs were battling their way up over the Owen Stanley Range to take Port Moresby. From there it would have been a hop to Queensland, and not a lot to prevent them from raging through Australia like the rabid dogs they'd shown themselves to be in China, Malaya, Hong Kong and everywhere else they'd come calling.
So the Aussie troops were shipped back from the Western Desert to stop the Short Ones on that lone bloody trail over those formidable mountains. What Dad stopped was a pointy little bullet from a Nambu light machine gun that put a cute dimple in his right cheek going in, and made a ragged wreck of the other, coming out sideways with most of his teeth in tow and blowing away so much tissue the field surgeons couldn't close the hole. They just debrided the rough edges 'til they got it fairly smooth, and stretched the skin to make it a bit smaller. Back home, they offered reconstructive grafts to seal the thing up, but Dad said no, he'd had enough of army hospitals -a Nambu bullet from the same burst had smashed his hip and kept him in one for a year. And though he would never admit it, to him that hole was what he had instead of a medal. Something to be proud of, that meant a great deal to all Aussies in those days, though no one cares anymore.
Lucky for him he'd got married before the war, what with that ugly phiz he came home with. No, I'll take that back. I don't think a hole -or a missing leg or arm- would have mattered one bit to that lovely young woman. Even if she'd met him for the first time already mutilated, after his return. For I believe my mother and he were made for each other in every way. Except maybe one, which is why I didn't come wailing into the world until six or seven years after the war ended, their first and last child.
Mum and Dad were a matched pair, as close and understanding a couple as any. That's what everyone said, anyway. Of course I'm likely idealizing a bit. I have no idea how many images of our early days as a family are only received memories. But the abiding feeling I've retained down all these years is a sort of brightly optimistic fifties snapshot: Dad grasping one of my hands, Mum holding the other, me toddling happily along between them, occasionally swung up off my feet, both of them laughing. And both of them smiling down at me, arms around each other's waists, after they'd tucked me in bed nights. The two of them doting on each other, doting on me.
And when I was five or six -old enough so that most recollections of the time can be trusted as my own- they were still that way.
The only times voices were ever raised in our home was when a few of Dad's mates dropped by. Dad was a pressman for The Herald, a big goer for the trade unions and Labor politics, and so were his friends. On many nights I'd have my hair ruffled by the big rough hand of one or another of these men, and be told something like "Your dad's game, Harry. He's one hell of a battler."
Dad must have reserved his fighting spirit for politics and picket lines. There was never any obvious strife between him and Mum. They did have their spats, their little disagreements, but they kept them fairly quiet, fairly civil. At the very worst, Dad would simply slip out and come home late, with one or two too many pints under his belt. Whatever dispute had caused him to go seemed forgiven and forgotten as soon as he returned.
THEN CAME ONE DEPARTURE that sent everything we had to hell.
Mum, with scarcely a single sign of feeling ill to warn us, went very quickly, very painfully. It was a cancer so nasty and intimately feminine that Dad decided I was too young to be told any details about it. And for a while -I was fourteen- it seemed to me it had just about killed Dad as well. That buoyant, energetic man went flat as a blown-out tire...
MIND IF WE HIT the fast-forward button now? Just a hop to 1973 and a key scene that defines the arc of my entire story.
A close-up. Here's young Harry Hull, lean-faced and looking (he hopes) maybe a bit like that great new Aussie actor, Bryan Brown. Tie loose at the neck of his starched white shirt, sleeves rolled up, cigarette pasted to his lower lip, leaning back in his swivel chair with a self-satisfied smirk on his face while a new IBM Selectric purrs in neutral on his desk.
Pull back: He's in a bustling newsroom, phones jangling everywhere, dozens of other Selectrics tap-tap-tapping in a hell of a hurry, a couple of the editors at the far end of the room frowning at sheaves of paper in their hands and then shouting out someone's last name in tones only an asylum escapee might consider polite. Urgency is palpable. But no worries, Harry's thinking. He's just sent his first story to the desk and he's sure it's all right.
Then a white paper plane comes spiraling down and augers into his desk. He grabs it, unfolds it. It's his story, more blue lines and editing symbols on it than he can count. And written in all caps at the top: "ENGLISH YOUR SECOND LANGUAGE?" A funny expression appears on his face. Not, sad to say, one of Bryan's patented ironic Aussie grins.
He is being invited by someone unknown -but clearly a couple of ranks above him, he understands instantly- to feel deeply embarrassed about his effort.
He smells her before he sees her. Just a light, clean scent that reminds him of Centennial Park in full spring. All fresh, green, pleasant. "Get the message, cobber?" he hears a voice clear as new rain. "You've just come on, so I'll forgive you this time."
Harry spins in his chair and there's a woman to look twice at standing quite close. She's as long and sleek as one of those single-masted racers moored in Double Bay, almost a proto-Nicole Kidman but without that haughty vanity. And she's having a serious problem trying to keep a grin from spoiling the stern expression she's put on her face. Not a drop-dead beauty. Just neat, even features. But a mouth rich with indecent promise she's clearly unaware it possesses. She's one of the sub-editors, Harry realizes, though he doesn't know her name. Or how in the hell he missed noticing her all week even in this stockpen of a newsroom.
"As bad as that, is it?" Best he can manage, our bold boy, bothered in a most unfamiliar way by green eyes as directly appraising as any he's ever encountered.
"Very bad if the managing editor has a bash at your story in its present shoddy condition," she says. "If I were you, I'd commit the stylebook to heart fast as I could, and spend my nights with a grammar text. As well as learning how to make use of the dictionary I see there on your desk, mister."
She leans over Harry and taps that virginal, never-opened book just once with a lovely, long forefinger. Then she walks away.
Rather spend a night or two with you, personal instruction and all, Harry whispers to himself, watching her perfect bum for the moment or two it takes her to disappear entirely among the maze of desks. That fresh spring greening smell stays around awhile as he gets to work cleaning up his story.
NOW, IF WE REWIND...