Title: Man vs Child
Author: Dominic Knight
Publisher: Random House Australia
Read: July 15 - 18, 2013
At 34 years of age, Dan is somewhat dismayed that his circle of friends is dwindling as most of his mates are getting married and are starting families. Like a rock in a stormy sea, Dan has so far firmly withstood the threat of any commitment or (shock-horror!) the invasion of the dreaded al-childa. As Dan puts it: “Everyone who professes to be enjoying parenthood has a brain that’s been addled by exhaustion and hormones.” Besides, his jobs as morning radio presenter and nighttime stand-up comedian are not really relationship material. But at night, when he is returning to a lonely flat and staring at the ceiling, Dan muses what it would be like to come home to a warm family home.
Dan's resolve to resist the “c-word” is challenged as his old highschool flame Penny moves into his neighbourhood, recently separated from her husband – with her 14-month old son Lloyd in tow. Having any chance of being with Penny comes at the cost of spending time with her child. Dan is terrified when she first takes him up on his offer to babysit for her. Will the al-childa threat prove too much for him?
With Knight’s background as comedy writer and member of the Chaser team, humour forms a big part of his latest novel, but there were also touching moments when Dan reflects on his life and his relationship woes. Being female, with an apparently in-built nurturing instinct, I found it quite interesting to read about Dan's teenage-like angst around anything concerning commitment. At thirty-four he is a tad bit old for that, surely? Does it really represent your average thirty-something career guy out there today? Perhaps I am a bit too old in the tooth to appreciate the gravity of the situation regarding the existential fears young males of our species are facing every day.
Knight’s broadcasting background allowed a fascinating insight into the breakfast radio scene, which made for some hilarious moments and some interesting characterisations. Alas, it also shattered one of my innocent (or naïve) beliefs – prank calls recorded in the studio???? It almost made me cry!
Whilst the first half of the book humorously deals with Dan's commitment phobia, his failing aspirations as a stand-up comedian and his disillusionment with his day job, the book lost a bit of steam after Dan meets Penny and hopes to ingratiate himself by offering to babysit her fourteen-month-old son. After the first babysitting episode, which runs surprisingly smoothly given Dan's paranoia of anything child, the story settles into an almost comfortable (and not-so-funny) routine of dating a mother of a young child. Which was a bit of a let-down for me, since it was exactly the stuff which could have produced so many more hilarious moments the book’s title Man vs Child promises.
Make the child a two-year-old instead of fourteen month, and the name al-childa would be truly justified (I should know, I am a survivor of the terrible-twos, and it’s left it’s scars). True, there would be the sacrifice of a few boobie jokes (although many mothers still breastfeed their two-year-olds), but think of the possibilities of embarrassment: tantrums in the supermarket, faecal fountains out of nappies on a crowded bus, projectile-vomiting of baked beans, a streaker episode as the child strips naked in public and tries to escape any attempts of re-dressing efforts made by parents …. The list goes on. Instead, Lloyd is a little angel who gives Dan hardly any trouble and settles off to sleep peacefully with his dummy. If only my own babysitting attempts all went that well! Personally, I would have preferred if Knight had built a bit more on the whole man vs child aspect of the book, instead focusing his efforts on Dan's tortured relationship with Penny and his work problems. With Knight’s Chaser background, I did not expect him to shy away from the endless list of potentially embarrassing moments, even if it meant sacrificing political correctness.
Man vs Child is an easy, humorous read which should appeal to the thirty-something male crowd out there with commitment phobias similar to Dan's. Saying that, I got a few laughs out of the first half of the book myself, despite belonging to the opposite gender and being a survivor of the whole marriage-with-children deal.
Thank you to the Reading Room and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic preview copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Please note that the final version of the book may differ from the one I reviewed.