Youth homelessness and drug abuse are tough subjects to take on in Australia. They are either ignored or treated as a problem for the welfare and legal systems. Mick Cummins takes these issues head on in his latest novel So Close to Home. The novel takes readers deep into the life of a drug-addicted teenager living on the streets of Melbourne and the downward cycle that he finds himself in.
When So Close to Home opens Aaron is being given a slight chance – a room in a hostel for the night. But before long he has stolen his roommate’s watch and pawned it to pay for his next hit. Aaron is addicted to heroin and has been living on the street since his mother kicked him out. Aaron’s parents split up over his allegations of abuse against his grandfather. Now Aaron floats through the city, constantly seeking ways to find money for his next score, eventually turning to prostitution and finding himself in a twisted version of the abuse that destroyed his life.
There is not much plot to speak of in So Close to Home. This is a character study with a narrative that goes where Aaron goes, beats to the rhythm of his life, and charts what can only ever be an inexorable decline. It is compassionate and heart breaking. Aaron experiences moments of grace – brief friendships and time with his mother and her boss in their hair salon. But all of these moments occur beneath the shadow of his addiction which drives Aaron to take risks and also leaves him vulnerable.
Where writers like Trent Dalton rely on a more whimsical, optimistic approach to the issue of homelessness, Cummins takes a more realistic approach. It is a reality that is easy to turn away from. But Cummins makes readers look, to try and understand what has brought Aaron to this point, and how the systems around him are not only ill-equipped to help him but often serve to push him further down into a spiral of addiction. Even the name of the book, So Close to Home, highlights that Aaron’s world is only a bus ride from his childhood home, and yet he has nowhere to turn. So Close to Home deals with issues that are so common that they have fallen out of the news and out of view for many. It is tough but important fiction that with hopefully get readers thinking more deeply about an issue and a population who we tend to not think about at all.