Low Expectations

LOW EXPECTATIONS
Stuart Everly-Wilson
Text Publishing

REVIEWED BY ANNE STEVENS

The title sums up 15-year-old Devon’s view of the world. His favourite book is Great Expectations, his hero is not Pip, but the escapee Magwitch, fighting for his life with no expectations.

Devon pretends to be a mute to be placed in the remedial class at school where there is no pressure on him. He has two good friends, classmate Big Tammy and his Hungarian neighbour Krenek. According to Devon, Krenek is ‘‘probably fifty’’ and he drinks a lot. He used to home-school Devon and he gave him a copy of Great Expectations. His dump of a house is the protagonist’s refuge.

Devon and his mother live in her long-deceased parents’ house in West Sydney. They are, in a sense, outcasts; his mother a solo parent and Devon a misfit. Most of their neighbours are elderly widows whose meanness seems to be in large part because his grandfather was kiln foreman when a large part of the local workforce was laid off.

The other explanation for the neighbours’ snide remarks and unpleasantness is his mother’s rape and the resentment over her stoicism.  Devon is the product of that rape but he does not know who his father is and his mother will not discuss the matter.

Devon’s pretense of mutism is not only to keep expectations low but to avoid all the bullying he received in regular classes and give him space to do his own thing. He finds in one of his explorations a pile of pornographic magazines in a dumpster outside a printing firm that had been discarded as misprints. His business at school selling the magazines becomes highly successful. The artfulness of Devon and business partner Tammy will have you cheering for them from the sidelines.

Devon is an acute observer of people and his descriptions are eye-wateringly funny. Incident after incident he provides a comical take, even though many expose an undercurrent of sadness.

Anne Stevens QC is a Dunedin barrister
 

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