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If you want to read a book that’s getting a bit of buzz around the traps, why not have get your hands on a memoir that goes by the deceptively bland title The Family Law (Benjamin Law, Black Inc Books, $27.95)

What’s the attraction? Crikey‘s Amber Jamieson explains that the 25-year-old’s book is “the first time I’ve read a memoir from my generation, with recognisable things from my ’90s childhood like Dr Feelgood, Mambo shorts and dreams of being a Home and Away star. It’s a fabulously Australian Generation Y tale.”

Here’s what other people are saying:

Within the first two pages of The Family Law I was laughing out loud and reading passages out to explain my non-standard reading behaviour. This was repeated many, many times over the course of Ben Law’s debut as I made my way through his series of vignettes of life as one of the Laws.

Law, a freelance writer possibly best known for his work in magazine Frankie grew up as one of five children raised on the Sunshine Coast where his parents settled after emigrating from Hong Kong. He’s also gay. These three factors — big family, immigrant background, homos-xuality — are the common threads that run through his stories. They could make for a po-faced book, but it’s anything but.

It’s a rollicking series of insights into the life of a pretty awesome family.

Eliza Metcalfe, freelance writer and editor, writing in Bookseller+Publisher magazine’s Fancy Goods blog.

Law’s mother is a vivid character: zany, playfully profane, with a wicked, offbeat sense of humour. She sends avant-garde birthday text messages to her children, such as; “All my discomfort ööö… And painful memories ÖÖÖ,” with the Os representing a line of female mouths in labour. Law describes the hardship his mother endured (physical and otherwise) giving birth to five children in succession, and raising them largely on her own. To remind her children of this, she constantly regales them with graphic descriptions of their births …

This is also one of the first books about being a teenager in the ’90s: chatting online for the first time, teaching parents to use new technology, a media obsession with serial killers, a plethora of sleep-disturbing scary movies, and the rise of One Nation. Look out for Law’s amusing literary analysis of Mariah Carey’s Music Box, a seminal album for many of his vintage.

— Raili Simojoki, guest reviewer on Crikey blog Literary Minded

The Family Law is a strong debut, but it’s not perfect. It’s well written and amusing, but it is not as explosively hilarious as some reviews are suggesting; I rarely laughed out loud (although I did at the vision of Law in pointed suede shoes that made him resemble an elf). Also, some of the anecdotes veer into a heavy-handed sentimentality that jars with the otherwise irreverent tone and appears calculated to offer a bittersweet insight.

Anyone writing self-deprecating, humorous essays about growing up gay in a provincial town, about an oddball family and a boyfriend with saintly patience, is going to suffer by comparison with David Sedaris. The Family Law will definitely appeal to fans of Sedaris’s style, but it’s a shame that Law is being hailed as “the new David Sedaris”, “the new Australian David Sedaris” or “The new Asian-Australian David Sedaris” rather than, y’know, “a fresh, original voice quite unlike anyone you’ve read”.

This is a distinctively Australian book, and Law’s is a kind of Australian childhood that hasn’t yet been extensively chronicled. Hugh Lunn, John Birmingham and Nick Earls have all had their go at writing about being young in the Sunshine (aka “Smart”) State; now it’s Law’s turn to visit the “poor-cousiny, half-arsed and afterthoughtish” theme parks of the Sunshine Coast and relive the miseries of Queensland summers.

Being as white as a loaf of Tip-Top, I enjoyed being introduced to Asian diasporic culture through Law’s impertinent skewering. But many of his other anecdotes instantly took me back to my own dorky, pretentious childhood. I sympathised deeply with Law’s visceral terror of Pennywise the clown from Stephen King’s IT. I recall how body piercing made many mainstream teenagers consider themselves extremely edgy. And I, too, owned a Sony Walkman with megabass function, had a brother who aurally assaulted the family with Nirvana’s In Utero, and surreptitiously listened to Dr Feelgood’s late-night s-xual health radio show.

— Mel Campbell, The Enthusiast

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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