Book review: T, Alan Fyfe

A novel lifted beyond the ordinary by the skill in its telling and the powerful use of a pertinent snippet of history.

Alan Fyfe’s debut novel revolves around Timothy Ami – who most people call T – a young man who ‘had all the chattel fixtures and functions of a 183-centimetre tall 23-year-old man with four working limbs; eyesight that could benefit from glasses but wasn’t dependent on them yet … and no more than reasonable intelligence.’

Sacked from his job, T makes his living dealing ice, to which he is himself addicted. Many of his customers are also his friends. Most are usually known by nicknames, such as Lori-Bird and Gulp and JC and Cardo, which tends to make them somewhat likeable, even when they are not. 

T’s work keeps him busy:

‘T didn’t wake up until Tuesday. He’d continued on the trade route through Saturday until dawn, then Sunday had seen top-up requests pinging into his phone thick and fast. Some would need it to get through work on Monday; others just wouldn’t want to stop – meth is incredibly moreish. His body didn’t overcome the chemical until past seven on the Monday morning, and his eyes stayed shut for more than twenty hours, only opening briefly for him to see his way out of Lori-Bird’s room for a piss.’

All this action, and inaction, takes place in West Australia, in the area around Rockingham, home to the Binjareb people when Thomas Peel arrived in 1830 aboard the ship that gave the district its new name. Peel then launched a massacre of the Binjareb people.

Fyfe relates the story of this villain as a backdrop to the present-day activities of T. He makes the reader acutely aware of the contrast between the minor – and not so minor – misdemeanours of his characters and the shocking behaviour of an invader whose name is honoured in the very district in which the action takes place.  

Ice can be taken in a variety of ways and how it is ingested can make a difference. The drug can make you feel very good, give great pleasure and is energising. It makes the user more wakeful and causes loss of appetite. Withdrawal symptoms vary widely and include hallucinations and nausea.

All of these, the good and the bad, are vividly displayed in the time the reader spends with T. But what is also on display is the human condition: the love of music, the love of poetry, the love of love, the love of life. And if you wonder why T does what he does, his supplier Cardo proffers one explanation: ‘You’re doing it to be free. Why else would anyone do it?’

Read: Dance review: Instruments of Dance

This warm-hearted story is a realistic and sympathetic account of a way of life unfamiliar to many readers. What elevates it to distinction is not only the skill of its telling but Fyfe’s powerful use of history as a background canvas against which to view the present; this serves as one of the highlights of this penetrating novel.

T by Alan Fyfe
Publisher: Transit Lounge
ISBN: 9780648414
Paperback: 232pp
RRP: $29.99
Publication: 1 September 2022

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer.