We meet middle-aged big-city talkback radio host Harvey Beam at a crucial point in his life: his career has taken a nose-dive, and back in the small town he grew up in the father he is estranged from is dying. Harvey returns to his home-town, navigating fraught family relationships, old wounds, landmarks, and the chasm between his present life and what he left behind as a young man. This flawed but likeable character is forced to confront the family he ran from, consider the type of partner and father he has been, and reassess the opinions he holds about the place he grew up in and its inhabitants. This is an impressive and often hilarious debut novel with a cast of well-drawn characters, strong narrative, and highly relatable experiences.
About the author
Carrie Cox is a journalist, author, tutor, mother and timid surfer, though never all at once and not in that order. She grew up in Mackay, Queensland, and has also lived in Sydney, Brisbane and, since 2010, Perth. Carrie penned a weekly satirical column, ‘Carrie On’, that was syndicated to six newspapers over ten years until she ran out of things to say. She has also authored two non-fiction books, Coal, Crisis, Challenge and You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Bus. Afternoons with Harvey Beam is her first novel.
Questions for discussion
- In an interview, the author says she gravitates to books that help her to better understand herself and life, ‘But that quickly becomes painful and so I look for comic relief.’ (1) In what ways do you feel Cox has projected this tendency onto the character of Harvey?
- Carrie Cox says that families have always fascinated her ─ what brings them together, and what pulls them apart. “Some people might grow up knowing their family has their back and they’re standing on really, really solid ground … whereas others might be on very, very shaky ground.” This has led her, she says, to wonder, “to what extent does that have to
shape you. Do you have a choice? Can you leave all that behind … ?” (2) Discuss this in relation to the Beam family. What are the dividing forces, and what binds them together?
- In what ways has Harvey’s return to his home town of Shorten caused him to reflect on his own performance as a husband and father?
- Discuss the character of Lynn Beam. Do you think she let her children down? How responsible is she for the dysfunctional nature of the Beam family and the subsequent struggles its various members have with relationships?
- Why do you think Lionel Beam treated Harvey the way he did, both when Harvey was a child and as an adult?
- Discuss Harvey’s reaction (or lack thereof) to hearing of his father’s death (pp 157-9). What does he mean when he thinks: “And the options seem suddenly endless … because Lionel Beam is no longer here.”
- Bryan or Harvey: who do you think is the lucky one?
- Discuss the other key characters in the book (Grace, Matt, Naomi and Penny), their personalities and their interactions. Which ones did you relate to or enjoy the most, and why?
- The story alternates between the present time and flashbacks to highlights of Harvey’s career as a talkback host. What is the author’s purpose for using this narrative device?
- Grace tells Harvey: ‘No, what’s weird is that you came back here for closure, but I’m the one who found it.’ What does she mean, and is she the only one who found such closure?
- How do you feel the fictional character Harvey compares with actual well-known Australian radio ‘shock-jocks’? Do you find Harvey a more sympathetic character than them?
1 Cox, Carrie. “The Shock-Jock Who Lost His Mojo: Carrie Cox on Afternoons with Harvey Beam.” Interview in Good
Reading Magazine. http://www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au/featured-author.html
2 Cox, Carrie. “The People Who Shape Us.” Interview by Julie Hosking, The West Australian, 11 May 2018
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- Thicker Than Water, Richard Rossiter (UWA Publishing)