Welcome to another, fairly self-explanatory “Five Things I’ve Learned” review. Today I have a humorous, Australian adult contemporary novel for you that deals with the pressing question that most people never ask: How can I use my spare kidney to make the world a better place? The book is Useful, a debut in adult fiction for Debra Oswald who is a published playwright and children’s novelist. Let’s crack on, shall we?
It would be somewhat remiss to describe Sullivan Moss as a successful specimen of manhood. Having dented and destroyed multiple friendships and at least one marriage through a combination of alcohol, infidelity and general poor behaviour, Sully wakes up in hospital to discover that even his attempt at suicide has been unsuccessful. After taking the briefest of moments to reassess this unexpected new lease on life, Sully decides that he will become “useful” – by donating one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.
While jumping through hoops to meet the criteria for a living donor, Sully begins to pull his life together and become a more productive member of society, making new friendships, holding down a job and making amends for past sins. Just as it seems Sully has hit his stride in this new way of living, things go kidney-shaped when an old acquaintance returns to stir the pot.
Sully thought he’d turned the corner, but unless he can maintain the strength of his convictions, he’s in danger of making a complete U-turn.
Five Things I’ve Learned From…
1. It is actually possible to randomly decide to donate a spare body part to someone in need (at least in this country)
2. When sneaking into a friend’s wake after skipping the funeral, it is best to do so alone. Or at least not in the company of a relative stranger who proceeds to nick all your dead friend’s partner’s gear.
3. Dogs are the glue that hold many awkward social couplings together.
4. Infidelity is the glue that holds many rubbish relationships together.
5. Giving someone a second (and third, fourth, fifth or twentieth) chance can sometimes bear fruit. *Fruit-bearing not guaranteed*
Apart from a definite sag in the middle, I quite enjoyed Useful. It’s a fun and unusual premise, that of random living organ donation, and one that certainly should act as a conversation starter in a country such as ours in which rates of posthumous organ donation are so low and the need for said organs so high. In fact, Oswald manages to touch on a number of rather serious issues in a jocular fashion in this tome. There’s Sully’s obvious mental health problems, with depression, suicide attempts and alcoholism. There’s relationship break-up and its effects on children. And then of course, there’s the issue of re-homing pets whose owners have died.
Useful has an undeniably Australian feel to the humour and events in the story, which was something I welcomed. There’s a sense of laid-backed-ness that you get with many Australian novels that I really delight in. It makes book reading a bit like listening in to the gossipy talk at a backyard barbeque, and the male main character in this one also gives the humour a blokey feel, which I found quite refreshing.
Sully is (by design) an impossibly likeable but flawed character. He is undeniably charming (in a genuine, self-deprecating way) and it is this trait that has caused most of the drama in his life to date. I can’t really resist a tale of redemption told with humour and authenticity with a bit of quirk on the side, and Useful delivers on each of these elements. Unfortunately, the plot does slow down in the middle, round about the time Sully’s ex-acquaintance from Hollywood arrives on the scene, and this slowing did effect my overall enjoyment of the book.
Sagging aside though, this should appeal if you’re looking for some contemporary fiction with a bit of a medical twist and one very darling dog.
Until next time,