Poor People with Money–book review

Poor People with Money, by Dominic Hoey

I really wanted not to like this book. The too-cool-for-school, attention seeking badass author didn’t sound promising, with his snarly comments about moving to Detroit or LA (wooo) because he’s been left out of the NZ lit club. He has a lovely line in his poetry where he is:
…condescended to by people
who have never been punched in the fac
which is a brilliant way to categorise people, but a $40k grant? Just saying. When he didn’t make the longlist for the Ockhams this year he said ‘Man there’s dogs they would give that award to over me!’ Thanks. (I’m on the shortlist). What a charmer.

So of course I picked up the bloody book and connected immediately, like I’d plugged into a socket and switched on the electricity, betraying my middle-class, white neurotypicality (though I have been punched in the face – did my 40-man-fight aged 19 – wonder if that counts?)

The story’s narrator, Monday Wooldridge, is a pro-fighter. She fights because her dad was a fighter and she likes it – the physicality of it and the fact that she’s good – but also because she needs the money. Not only for drugs and booze which would make us love her less, but to pay for her mum’s dementia home. Kind of like Jean Valjean in Les Mis who steals a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s son. Altruism is a cliché, but a good one.

Eddie is her younger brother and she talks to him all the time. Remember when? She tells us about her past by talking to Eddie. Eddie is dead. An innocent who walked out an open door one day and never came back –and God! I feel an ache for lost characters, lost children particularly, and the psychological hold they have that never goes away. Monday’s been dealt a shit hand and she plays it pretty badly, sometimes with her fists, sometimes by being so out of it she makes stupid decisions. Who ever runs away with money from drug dealers and doesn’t face a reckoning?

She flees with her now embroiled flatmate, geeky introvert JJ, to his family up north in a ‘village so small it is not on most maps’. They hide out with the cash in a backpack as Monday tries to train for her escape, all planned, passport finally received: a trip to Thailand to train with Muay Thai masters. She has her setbacks, but how responsible is she for her bad choices and how much is she a product of her upbringing? (What can you expect from such a girl? is the question society will always ask.) Despite the dysfunction of the village where weed is the main industry and the Vampires drive fast at night, there’s a raw kind of goodness there. As in reality, amid all the shit, even Monday has the occasional flash of luck.

We’d quite like our money back xox,’ texts Romeo, the camp, murderous drug-dealer with little dog and thug brother, and eventually, of course, the pair turn up with their gangster guns and tasers at the village so small.

Pretty perfect book, really. Any more stories like this and Hoey will become a lit darling. Wonder how he’ll like that?

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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