Specimen: Personal essays by Madison Hamill (Victoria University Press, 2020), 232 pp, $30
Stepping into the world of Madison Hamill is a bit like stepping into the crazy life of Patricia Lockwood; Specimen might be considered our homegrown Priestdaddy. Key similarities: this collection of essays boasts an eccentric ministerial father, along with plenty of foibles and faux pas (both the author’s own, and those of a whole host of bizarre dramatis personae)—and it’s downright hilarious. So far, so brilliantly similar. Except—and I’m tiptoeing un-daintily around a massive spoiler, here—for the sex. A counterpart to Lockwood’s heterosexual relationship is nowhere to be seen. This is because Hamill reveals herself, in the aptly titled ‘I Will Never Hit on You’, as asexual.
Specimen is revelatory, maverick and nostalgia-piquing. It’s also a first book. Straight out of the gate, Hamill gives us non-fiction flecked with mad, rewarding moments of magical realism and hyperreality. As Hamill acknowledges in the Author’s Note: ‘Some of it is not true, such as the bit about the woman walking around with an axe in her head … I made that up because sometimes telling the truth requires lying.’ Read: she makes shit up, but only to tell it like it is. Isn’t this the essence of poetic licence, crisply defined? But it’s not just about creatively telling tales. This is nonfiction, after all, and any essay collection worth its salt should have a select bibliography this good, this wildly varied, charting Hamill’s topics from asexuality to avian behavioural psychology through to rural ethnography. [Read more…]