With a Can of JD: Snake Bite

With so many books on my Reading Pile, I’m really starting to appreciate a book that I can power through in a day or two. I especially like it when I can move quickly through a novel because I’ve been completely caught up in the rush of the story.

snake biteChristie Thompson’s Snake Bite (Allen and Unwin) pulled me forward, through a smoke-filled, booze fuelled suburban landscape towards, with equal likelihood, oblivion or redemption.

Jez is seventeen and lives with her alcoholic single mum in a government rental in Canberra’s outer-suburbs, with little money or future prospects. As well as suffering from terminal boredom, Jez has got epic First World Problems: where is her next pill coming from, what will her first tattoo be, and how will she ever lose her virginity?

Recently Jez has been having weird feelings about her best friend, emo kid Lukey – is she just bored or does she really want him? And if she makes a move on him (how to make a move on him?), will that endanger their friendship? So when effervescent hipster Melbournite Laura moves to town and starts macking on with Lukey, what is Jez to do but seek guidance from sexually experienced next-door-neighbour stripper, Casey? At the same time, Jez’s mum hooks up with a local bartender, placing a strain on their already fragile relationship.

Over the course of one blazing summer, Jez runs a gauntlet of new experiences and discovers the real meaning of home.

As the story begins, the temptation is to dislike Jez. She’s pierced, snarky and often high. Her cynicism and detachment from her family and peers is fairly common teenage fare, and I wondered whether I was going to be bored by little more than a tale of typical teen angst.

I needn’t have worried – I wasn’t bored, not at all. A little appalled at times maybe, but never bored.

Fairly quickly, Jez reveals herself to be an beautifully written, endearing character. She’s not likeable because you feel sorry for her, although of course you might…

The front door was wide open, so was the flyscreen, but there were no lights on in the house. I whipped around quickly to check to see if Mum had driven home; her white Toyota hatchback was parked in the driveway. I took a few steps until I was standing just outside the front door.

‘Mum?’ I called. ‘MUUUUM?’

I hooked one arm around the doorframe and ran my hand along the wall inside the house, searching for the light switch, and turned on the front hall light.

‘Mum?’ I pushed the front door open a little wider; I was half shaking and I was aware of my full bladder.

‘JESUS!’

The first thing I saw was Mum’s strappy sandals, strewed half a metre apart in the front hall. The next thing I saw was Mum’s bare feet, at angles, underneath the archway that separated the front hall and the living room. My heart leapt into my mouth.

‘Mum!’

Frantic, I kneeled at her side. She was fully clothed, belly down on the carpet, her arms at her sides. I leaned close to her face. I could hear her breathing. And I could smell the alcohol on her breath. Bundy and Coke.

…but because it’s pretty obvious that she’s asking questions, considering the logic of her ‘friends’ and in her very low-key, introverted way, challenging some of the expectations that her group have of her and of other girls of her age. I was cheering for her, desperately hoping that she’d pull back from the brink and take advantage of the opportunities that would seem to be being presented themselves to her.

Snake Bite is set in Canberra, but I think the depiction of the outer suburbs could be transferred into on pretty much any state. It’s not pretty, has more than a hint of bogan about it and is clearly somewhere that Jez and Lukey want to escape from. The story is set in summer, and I could almost feel the heat coming out of the pages. The weather, the summer clothing, the music and hot nights set up a most immersive reading experience.

Somewhat predictably Christie Thompson’s Snake Bite has been compared to Kathy Lette’s Puberty Blues. It did remind me of Kathy’s book, and it’s hard not to compare Jez and Debbie and the often reckless behaviour of their peers. Still, I actually like Christie’s novel much more than I liked Puberty Blues. I think Snake Bite is essentially much more positive, a more hopeful story.

It’s a gritty, sweary and sweaty coming-of-age novel, that leaves you feeling, basically, kind of good…

If you’d like to find out more about Christie Thompson’s Snake Bite visit the A&U site here.