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Coming Up Roses

Matthew Butt



It’s an inescapable fact of life that people are often going to be judged on superficial terms. The sheer number of strangers that we encounter in an average day ensures that the majority of them are going to be assessed rapidly on a limited series of attributes, then quickly and efficiently generalized and assigned a type, before, in the vast majority of cases, they disappear from our lives forever.
Seldom, if ever, do we pause from this casual boxing and labeling of other people’s lives to consider the accuracy of our judgments, or the effect that this might be having on their lives. Filthy hippie, drop-out student, bored housewife, arrogant advertising designer, young lovers, shallow d.i.n.k’s, whores. These are the boxes that we confine people to, for better or worse, without a moment of hesitation.
Wellington author Sarah Laing is determined to show that people are more than this, more than mere statistics, that her characters are real people with 3D, Technicolor minds, that they have dark pasts, haunting secrets, quirky attributes of one type or another. That they’re real people, dammit!
Her method is to open up the boxes, invade the minds of her characters, and display their inner lives for the world to read about. After having experienced first-hand these inner lives, my fondest wish is that they all quickly and without fuss return to their boxes, preferably to then be encased in concrete and dropped in the middle of Cook Strait, where I’ll never have to think about them again.
The only thing I found more annoying than the dull, self-pitying, washed-out characters was the writing itself, which alternated between pointlessly boring and just, well, bad. “Caterpillars chewing through his cabbage bloom of love” is a line that the world could probably do without, and one that came close to putting me off vegetables in general, not to mention love.
And call me picky, but Darth Vader’s line “I am your father” is from the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, not The Return of the Jedi, and is the second wrong Star Wars reference Laing includes, despite the fact that she clearly hasn’t seen the films since they were first released. Little things maybe, but in a book almost completely devoid of highpoints, references to real popular culture stand out, mis-references even more so.
The occasional moments when the writing does manage to rise above the mean of pointless tedium that the book sets for itself are too few to make Coming Up Roses any more than the most lacklustre of reads.