Lost souls struggle up from the street

Apirana Taylor's novel Five Strings is a direct and often confronting window on disadvantaged people in our society.

Apirana Taylor
Anahera Press


Novelist, short story writer, poet, performer and artist, Apirana Taylor has many strings to his bow. His style is direct and often confronting, featuring images of life from which many would choose to look away. Yet by focusing on these aspects he reveals them as all too common a reality for many disadvantaged people in our society.

In Five Strings, his second novel, key protagonists Mack and Puti are a transient couple, off the streets for now and living in a small, one-room hovel they have ironically nicknamed Shangri-La. Puti was given this name (which means "flower'') by her mother, Marama, in the hope that she would be destined for a successful and joyous life despite a rough start. However, when her mother died she was appropriated by her birth father and his associates and grew up in the bikie pad of Satan's Souls.

Mack's life has been similarly harsh, yet he does claim to aspire to more, spending periods of sobriety or hangover recovery time in the public library, devouring such tomes as A History of the Beginning of the Universe. Yet life for these two primarily consists of gin-drinking, smoking dope, staggering wildly around the streets making scenes and sleeping fitfully. This depressing existence does not look set to change any time soon despite their pretences to greater things, indicated in the terms of endearment they affect: Puti is "Peaches Babydoll'', a "peach'' and a "dish'', while Mack is her very own "Cord on Blue'', and otherwise "Mack the Brewery''.

It is all very dismal. Having no water supply, they bathe once a week at the public swimming pool, where they are greeted with disdain. They frequently hide their sickness benefit money from each other and Puti is wont to steal bottles of gin when the going gets particularly tough; a gesture for which Mack holds her in high esteem.

Each blames the other for failings in life; each views his or her own lifestyle as not too corrupt and any inadequacies as residing wholly in the other. Mack threatens frequently to kick Puti out, which she returns as good as given. And with the death of their newborn years ago they have grief unprocessed, as Mack refuses to talk about it.

Taylor writes without judgement, frankly and discompassionately. Although nothing seems likely to change, the author does offer the hope of redemption; one that can be found when a dysfunctional person patches up estrangement and turns again towards their iwi and a recognition of their whakapapa.

Jessie Neilson is a University of Otago library assistant.

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