My novella Shanghai Wedding was a winner in the 2018 The Novella Project VI from Griffith Review and has been published in Griffith Review 62: All Being Equal.
Shanghai Wedding is the story of Billy, a Brisbane-born twenty-something who falls for Qiang, an international student who eventually returns to Shanghai to marry a woman. The idea started with a short story I wrote for hello mr. magazine, ‘Purple Galaxy‘, which focused on a scene of domestic violence in a gay relationship and its aftermath. Not longer after this, I read the ’China’ chapter of Benjamin Law’s book Gaysia, and the characters of Billy and Qiang soon emerged. Shanghai Wedding is a story spanning two very different river cities—Brisbane and Shanghai—and the complications that can arise in cross-cultural relationships. The story opens with Billy arriving in Shanghai, but shifts back to tell their back story before finally ending, of course, in Shanghai.
I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence there is and I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.
I don’t think that’s actually a word, Elisabeth says.
I’m tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says.
The plane tree is a colonial import to Australia, often found lining city and inner-suburban streets in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. Shaded avenues often lined on both sides, forming a ceiling of brilliant fluorescent green in spring and summer that becomes somewhat stark and barren in winter. Most controversially, perhaps, aside from being a non-native tree, they can also be an allergy and respiratory menace in spring, when the trees shed their spiny hairs and seeds, especially on windy days. It is, of course, all a matter of perspective and subjectivity, but also of timing and repetition—as marked by the passing of the seasons.
In Lynette Washington’s Plane Tree Drive
, somewhere between a short story collection and a novel-in-stories, we see a number of perspectives on the plane trees throughout the book. On the opening page, Maurice reflects that his soon-to-be ex-wife Jacqui “used to look up at the branches, reaching over the road towards each other, and mutter under her breath, ‘monstrous’ or, ‘it’ll be the death of me’. She said the trees made her feel like she was in prison. She was convinced the street was shadowy, secretive. Something about the gnarled fingers of the branches especially made her skin crawl.” Later, Jennifer, who paints as an escape from her life as a wife and mother, and who dreams of her unrequited first love, Alexander, sees “trees with crooked fingers leaning over each other, grasping and locking themselves together.” For Coralie, driving down Plane Tree Drive with her vents closed, the pollen is “like yellow puffs of fairy floss”.
That people, even more than things, lost their boundaries and overflowed into shapelessness is what most frightened Lila in the course of her life. The loss of those boundaries in her brother, whom she loved more than anyone in her family, had frightened her, and the disintegration of Stefano from fiancé to husband terrified her. I learned only from her notebooks how much her wedding night had scarred her and how she feared the potential distortion of her husband’s body, his disfigurement by the internal impulses of desire and rage or, on the contrary, of subtle plans, base acts. Especially at night she was afraid of waking up and finding him formless in the bed, transformed into excrescences that burst out because of too much fluid, the flesh melted and dripping, and with it everything around, the furniture, the entire apartment and she herself, his wife, broken sucked into that stream polluted by living matter.
“The children had never seen their father cry before. They had thought that fathers get angry and shout about the bills and wearing slacks, and laugh with the woman from the bookstall, and sometimes with mothers; but never cry.
He looked like a bird, with his mouth down at the corners, the way a fowl looks when the rest of the fowls have been put in for the night, and the realization of their going has overtaken the last fowl; and she panics; and her beak drops; and that is how Bob Withers’ face seemed when he really knew about Francie. He knew later than the others. They had been warned, and driven, like fowls at night, inside, though not to warmth. Driven inside to outerness, as if the moment they passed through the door of knowing, they came, not to warm nests, but dropped down to dark, yet in some kind of comfort because they were together and close; and there was Bob waiting to be driven inside to share the darkness of their complete knowing, and not wanting to go, and being scared, like the lost fowl.”