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“We’re nothing but spray cans, used up and thrown away”

November 5, 2014

Here Come the Dogs“Everybody wants to change,” says Aleks, one of the three main characters of Here Come the Dogs. The lives of these guys have gone wrong in various ways. Can they change?

Aleks’ friend Solomon has been rudderless since quitting basketball ten years ago. He’s brawny and charming and looks like someone who could contribute much but, in the words of his girlfriend, he is “all style over substance” and has never applied himself to anything. He has a dishwashing job and, at 27, still lives with his mother. A hip hop and graffiti fan, he says:

We’re nothing but spray cans,
used up and thrown away,
creating something that gets painted over within a day.

Solomon’s half-brother Jimmy is even more religiously devoted to hip hop. Aleks thinks the relationship between Solomon and Jimmy is a struggle for power and “Jimmy had been born into a losing war.” Jimmy usually wears a hurt look, and “wishes he were stronger. He wishes he were Solomon or Aleks.” He wants to get a hot girlfriend to prove that he’s not worthless.

Canberra Bushfires 2003

One episode is based on the 2003 Canberra bushfires (photo by TD 021, Wikimedia Commons)

While Solomon is half-Samoan and Aleks is Macedonian, Jimmy is a “something.” His father at various times claimed to be Indigenous, Pakistani, Greek and Irish. Because Jimmy doesn’t know what he is, he was teased at school and called “Beige.” He becomes obsessed with finding out his ethnic background. “Not knowing what he is has become what he is.” He also harbours a deadly fascination for fire.

Unlike Solomon and Jimmy, Aleks has purpose in his life. He is a devoted family man who cares deeply for his wife and young daughter and looks after his parents. He has a strong work ethic, and likes working hard as a house painter. He is also a violent criminal, a large, strong man who can easily intimidate others. He acts as muscle and negotiates drug deals, all the while doing his day job. In one scene he mutilates a man who hasn’t paid a drug debt.

Omar Musa

Omar Musa (Photo credit: Cole Bennetts 2014, Penguin Books)

Aleks learnt to use his fists when he first came to Australia and other kids pointed at him and called him a wog. “It became power, but I was powerless to control it.” Can he change? Can he unlearn his propensity to violence?

Can Solomon change and apply himself? He begins teaching kids basketball, but having learnt to feel sorry for himself, will he give up at the first set-back? Can Jimmy overcome his sense of powerlessness, or will he be lost to delusions and dangerous urges?

Don’t expect neat answers.

These three guys, with their human failings, are infuriating but we care for them. They come to life through dialogue and their individual voices. The argot of hip hop is used in such a way that non-initiates like me can understand. One of the joys of reading the book is learning more about hip hop culture – rap, DJing, breaking and graffiti. Here Come the Dogs is great fun – it tumbles through an intoxicating whirl of scene changes, viewpoints  and switches between prose and verse. For a first novel, it is masterfully done.

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