When you open So Close to Home, you may be surprised to find, instead of a blank flyleaf, there’s a “content note”, which reads: ‘This book explores themes of drug addiction, homelessness, suicide and trauma. It includes depictions of drug use, sexual abuse and violence.’
No doubt this is intended as a courtesy to the prospective reader, but the skill and style Cummins deploys renders it unnecessary. The sex scenes, for example, are handled in a matter-of-fact manner – there is nothing salacious about them. The danger the reader encounters is coming face to face with the unpleasant reality of drug abuse and some of its consequences.
This is the authentic story of a few days in the life of 18-year-old Aaron. He is a heroin addict living on the streets. The story is narrated in the third person from Aaron’s point of view. You need a strong stomach to read it and to be grateful it is only fiction. But while it is fiction, there is no doubt it accurately depicts what is happening around Australia right now.
It is estimated that there are some 45,000 homeless people under the age of 25 in Australia, many of them drug abusers. Mick Cummins is an experienced social worker and presumably has based his story on fact.
Aaron was molested by his grandfather when he was a young boy and abandoned by his father, who refused to acknowledge the abuse. He has recently been evicted from his home by his mother in her mistaken belief that this may lead Aaron to seek help to overcome his drug addiction. Although this novel is mostly about drug addiction, it also deals with the damage done by childhood sexual abuse. So when Aaron is exploited by, and tries to exploit, a much older and very evil man, his trauma and his heroin addiction intersect.
As Aaron wanders the Melbourne streets, local readers will recognise many familiar places and observe a number of encounters, mostly of a type that are hopefully unfamiliar, such as between petty criminals and drug dealers. Readers will be fascinated by Aaron’s aspirations, intrigued by his reasoning and appalled by what he is prepared to do to feed his addiction.
While this novel references the title of a Norman Carver short story it bears no relationship to it. So Close to Home is well-named, not just because sometimes Aaron is close to coming home, but also because, like many heroin addicts, he is at times close to wanting to give up his addiction; he is so close to coming home to his mother, so close to considering another way of life.
Cummins writes about bad behaviour, stupid decisions and nasty people in a non-judgemental way. He doesn’t glamourise and he doesn’t condemn. All the minor characters in the novel, good or bad alike, are depicted with sympathetic understanding. There are no cardboard cut-outs among them.
A question I often ask myself when selecting a novel is: why would I want to read it? Am I reading to learn, am I reading to enjoy, am I reading to escape? Perhaps all of these reasons, with varying significance, apply to So Close to Home. Cummins has managed to make Aaron, his no-hoper drug-addicted character, likeable – to such an extent that when I finished reading So Close to Home I wanted to pick up a sequel that takes the story further. There are few greater compliments you can pay an author than that.
So Close to Home, Mick Cummins
Publication Date: 31 October 2023