Peter Goldsworthy


Three Dog Night


Seedy tosh with intellectual pretensions, based on a garish midday movie concept.


But Goldsworthy wouldn’t put himself in company with the comparable ‘Indecent Proposal’ – this isn’t just about titillation for the punters. I suspect he sees himself as a champion of asking brave questions. However, as with someone about to leap off a roof wearing a superman cape, there’s a fine line between brave and stupid. Actually not so fine: this is just stupid.


Oh, and offensive – something that’s become his hallmark. He was deliberately, if in a soft-target way, offensive in his ‘Honk if you are Jesus’ (although he didn’t really catch that the key thing about Jesus was his moral teaching and resurrection – he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his DNA that we should desire him – like Simon the sorcerer Goldsworthy missed the point entirely). In Felix we have another shallow, bitter turd who, like Mack in KISS, we’re somehow meant to find robust and endearing because of the no-nonsense way that they abuse anyone with the foulest language who might try to befriend them; at some point, weirdly, actually using the swearing to show how unaffected these characters are becomes pretentious.


But the real offensiveness comes from his ‘brave’ questions (don’t call me stupid). This from the man who thought it was worth reopening this bestiality hangup so many of us mindless conformists seem to have: c’mon, let’s get it out there – is having sex with animals really such a bad thing? While I’m all in favour of being aware of the assumptions of one’s culture and challenging them where appropriate (Jesus had a fair go at pro-Semitic racism, for example, not a popular move for a Jew in Israel), but, since I’m going hard on the biblical stuff in this review, we should test everything, and hold on to the good. You know, it’s cool, man, for teenagers to question their parents and the values they’ve been handed – but incredibly stupid if they just throw the lot away. Sure everyone’s old man has got a few blind spots, but it’s not that likely that they have got everything totally wrong. So, call me a hide bound conservative if you like, but if somebody throws up the question, “Um, is it OK to get with a baboon,” I’ve got no qualms at all in saying, “No.” Some questions actually have answers, and even if the answers have been around for a while they might still be right.


So what’s our challenge in Three Dog Night? Well, you know all this stuff about fidelity, trust, marriage, intimacy – could that all be a con? But this isn’t just the old playboy philosophy: Goldworthy would probably rather see himself as Peter Singer than Peter Swinger (ugh! Puns can turn up in the strangest places). No he deliberately pulls out a formula dream couple so we know it’s a profound issue he’s addressing, and not some standard Jerry Springer (no, not Singer or Swinger) style ugly infidelity from people with the loyalty and moral sense of an insect. So here’s our discussion topic around the table: devil’s advocate Goldsworthy says, maybe this ‘forsaking all others til death do us part’ thing is a crock. And then he falls back on the standard dodgy technique of trying to create one exception to justify a raft of clearly unjustifiable actions. It’s like the way, for example, a pro-abortionist will talk about, “What about someone who is raped whose life is in danger if they have the child with massive birth defects and a communicable disease?” to in effect justify, “What about someone who had consenting sex irresponsibly and wants a termination because they don’t want to change their lifestyle around a child?”


But, blimey, his extreme case argument is embarrassingly weak. “What if somebody’s got cancer and they fancy your wife.” Well, gee, Pete, that’s a real stumper. What would I do if a mate of mine had a terminal disease, and as part of his palliative care asked if he could borrow my Mrs for a while. And not just for sex, no, you could get a prostitute for that: no, straight up, it’s for intimacy because, you know, he’s really in love with her.


Riiiiiight. Well, I think after less than a second’s careful deliberation I’d come back with the sensitive response, “Keep your goddam hands off my wife.” Really, is that the best he can come up with? “It’s not just for sex.” Oh, that’s OK then – it’s not like I’d have a problem if my wife turned to someone else for a special intimate sexual relationship, just so long as it wasn’t just the sex, and maybe they didn’t actually make the beast with two backs. Pete, betrayal in a relationship does not merely mean intercourse.


Whatever, I dumped the book a little over half-way with the supposedly intelligent couple agonising over a dead simple question as if it was Schrödinger's cat. What does Goldsworthy want me and my wife to do: to start wondering seriously if it’s really wise and compassionate if I lend her out, and she lends herself out, now and then to anyone who might be infatuated by her – just as long as they’ve got a terminal disease (and foul-mouthed aggressiveness). How does this even start to be a dilemma? Uh, I heard the question, the answer is no. That would be a betrayal of trust. Maybe we can hang out together, but, gee, who would have thought it, I don’t want you hitting on my wife – even if you are sick. Like that’s the only valid compassionate response. Sheesh, give me a break – yet super-intelligent hyper-insightful respected straw-man idiot psychologist Martin is left speechless: “Oh, um, well, I suppose you should go off together on a holiday without me. Nothing else for it really.” And supposedly wise and sharp and equally in love Lucy just resignedly being handed around to unquestionably vile Felix as comfort woman. Give. Me. A. Break.


Do I dare risk a Goldsworthy again? I loved Maestro, but maybe I shouldn’t read it again through the ugly lens of his later work. There’s nothing of that sort of charm or honesty in this book. There are some Australian references, but they felt contrived – got to shift a few units, maybe justify some grant or another. Like I said, I dumped this just before the trip – maybe I missed something better (not hard) later, but I seriously doubt it – the whole premise of the book just stank. And I’m not usually the type, but this book is going straight into the bin. I have really liked some of the authentic people in other books of his, Australians I could recognise – but the company here is just plain unpleasant. I’ve tried – c’mon, to pick up a book of his after the appalling Wish shows enormous faith and forgiveness – but I think it’s moved beyond not agreeing with his ‘brave’ questions. I think Goldsworthy has shrunk, he doesn’t even seem to be good company any more.


April 2006