Meet Jon Doust; he is a funny man and a survivor. Funny in that he is a stand-up comedian with a natural gift for a story, and a survivor in the sense he had mercury poisoning (pinks disease) as a child, survived, and then lived through the cruelty of boarding school to tell the tale.
He has dedicated this fictionalised autobiographical work to all those boys who experienced bullying and harsh schooling days and have carried their scars into manhood.
Boy on a Wire
Set in Western Australia, Boy on a Wire draws on Doust’s personal experience of being sent, in his early adolescence, from a small country town to a boys’ boarding school in the city.
Small in stature, he had to be quick on his feet and fast with his mouth. Luckily for Doust, he had both of these qualities.
The main protagonist is Jack Muir (Doust); hot-headed, smart-mouthed and totally loveable. Readers follow him on his journey through the perils of school life as he grapples with what is good and evil in the world, takes on the bullies, both children and adults, and lives in constant fear of everyone, including God, his superhero.
Jack is a champion of the underdog. When the less-fortunate are picked on he takes on the responsibility of seeking revenge, all the while wondering if he may indeed also have a bit of Satan in him.
Questioning his religion, Jack lives with constant guilt. He is measured against his older brother Thomas, a somewhat golden child, and often wishes him dead. When Thomas has an accident, Jack takes the blame and his guilt escalates.
Humour in Boy on a Wire
For a stand-up comedian it is not surprising that humour comes naturally in the novel and although at times very dark and sad, Doust’s writing leaves us with hope and the sense of optimism that all will be fine in the world.
In an interview with Jo Case at Readings 15 April 2010, Doust states “My family have always used humour to cope with illness, failings and flaws and I have a background in stand-up comedy. My personal sense of humour has a darkness and I am a regular user of it as a survival tool.”
As well as the humour, it is Doust’s characters who are the real winners in this memoir. They are colourful, repulsive, sensitive and cruel. Doust follows them into adulthood with the final pages of the book being dedicated to a list of where they are now. It is hard to gauge if the list is the truth or a product of Doust’s humour. Regardless, the result is satisfying and in most cases, deserved.
About Jon Doust
Jon Doust was born in Bridgetown and lives in Albany, Western Australia. He is an author, comedian, motivational speaker and lover of organic fruit and vegetables. This is his first book for adults but he has previously has success with two children’s novels.
Boy on a Wire was longlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award which celebrates the best in Australian literature. Unfortunately Doust did not make the shortlist.
Boy on a Wire (Fremantle Press, 2009, ISBN 9781921361456, 236 pages.)