Gunk Baby

In Gunk Baby, the second novel by Australian author Jamie Marina Lau (Pink Mountain on Locust Island), young adults navigate consumer-targeted geographies of shopping centers as well as aspirational, exclusive residential enclaves.

Peripatetic Leen lives with Doms and Vic; Leen met the former while unknowingly sharing an ex-boyfriend, the latter is Doms's current partner. Leen is more stay-for-free squatter than roommate since Doms's invitation of "it'll be fun shifted into the boredom and dissatisfaction of our current state." Still, cohabitation is helpful for Leen, who's opening an alternative wellness studio at the local mall, offering ear cleaning (reminiscent of her mother's childhood ministrations), massages (gleaned from half of an unfinished training course) and, later, cupping (relying on video tutorials). Vic works in the mall's pharmacy, which gives Leen the opportunity to meet Vic's enigmatic co-worker Jean Paul and the pharmacy owner's teenage son Huy.

While working to keep her studio functioning, Leen finds herself recruited by Jean Paul into a vaguely anti-establishment underground network. With little forethought or resistance, she becomes the de facto delivery/getaway driver for Jean Paul and Huy's "Resisting Acts"--which initially resemble minor pranks but eventually expand to become explosive disasters.

Lau delivers an astute narrative threaded with pithy quotes from Robert Green's 48 Laws of Power, and erudite references to Heidegger, Sartre, Nietzsche. She also fills her fiction with quotidian details--global brands, wellness obsessions, app-controlled smart homes, multiplying addictions, cultural appropriation and exotification--almost as if creating both an exposé of and warning to a society on the verge of failing its young adults. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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