ADRIAN SIMON Milk-Blood. Reviewed by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
This dramatic memoir provides another perspective on the infamous true crime story of Warren Fellows, an Australian drug trafficker sentenced to life imprisonment in Thailand – and Simon’s father.
Reading Milk-Blood is like sitting down across from Simon as a therapist and saying, ‘Tell me everything.’ He reveals the shadows and stigmas he grew up with, along with the harshest details of a family torn apart by drugs, crime and lies:
Have you ever had people assume they know all about you without ever having met you? Every step I’ve taken on this planet I have been weighed down by the heaviness of the past, a past I didn’t create. My father wanting to be a criminal shaped all my decisions, actions and life purpose. I knew how dark the world could get. The black hole he created was forever trying to pull me in.
Simon’s narrative starts with the outside-looking-in view of his parents’ jetsetter lives in the early years of their relationship. Based in Sydney, with plans for a second home in Hawaii, they lived on what were supposedly Warren Fellows’s winnings from the track. As a baby, Simon crawled around in the cash his father would toss into the air.
By Chapter Two, however, Fellows has been arrested in Thailand for trafficking heroin and back in Sydney the police are after Simon’s mother as a suspected accomplice. The book follows Simon through his childhood. At first he faces the difficulty of being a child with an ‘absent’ father in conservative communities. His situation becomes more complex when, at age nine, he learns the truth about his father’s imprisonment; attempting to comprehend this information at such a young age leads to a mental breakdown. Simon develops Obsessive Thought Disorder, a type of obsessive thinking:
My repetitive thoughts now evolved into seeing death all around me. I imagined swords decapitating people, especially [my mother]. I couldn’t look at anyone. There was nowhere to turn. I’d look up, down, sideways. Nothing could turn off my mind’s eye and the multitude of frightening images. I was trapped inside a mental prison and there was no escape.
Through his teenage years and into adulthood, he is haunted by his father’s legacy, particularly when Fellows returns to Sydney after receiving a royal pardon in 1990, and again when Fellows’s prison memoir, The Damage Done, is released internationally. As readers around the world learn how Fellows became a heroin addict and contracted AIDS in prison, Simon faces his own issues with drug addiction and violence.
For much of his narrative, Simon is constantly searching for other father figures, and struggles with ideas of what a ‘man should be’. At times he wants to impress his father, at others he wants to be rid of him. Their attempt to forge a personal relationship and business partnership ends disastrously.
Milk-Blood gives the impression that Simon’s been bursting to share his story, and it comes out like a flood at times. While often dramatic and intriguing, the narrative is sometimes obscured by asides and commentary. He seems to struggle with perspectives on gender roles and his father’s behaviour throughout the book and this is where the reader may feel most like a therapist, listening to the author sort through the emotional residue of an extraordinary and often tragic family story.
In other parts of the story, however, Simon demonstrates how the strife of his childhood made him more resilient, particularly when carving a career path for himself. This is one of many twists in the narrative that provide insight into human nature.
Particularly for anyone intrigued by The Damage Done or documentaries about Warren Fellows, Milk-Blood illuminates the far-reaching consequences of one man’s criminal actions.
Adrian Simon Milk-Blood The Author People 2015 PB 284pp $30.35
Ashley Kalagian Blunt has written for Griffith Review, McSweeney’s and Right Now. She teaches writing and public speaking, and performs stand-up. Her comic memoir Do It While You’re Young is in search of a publisher. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter: @AKalagianBlunt.
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