The Silver Family
When Mum and Dad pull up in front of the house one Tuesday afternoon and hurry Ben and Olive into the car, saying that they’re going on a ‘family holiday’, Ben is surprised. They aren’t really one of those family-movie-night, camp-in-the backyard, let’s-discuss-this-and-get-everyone’s-opinion kind of families. They are more of a dinner-in-front-of-the-TV, key’s-under-the-mat, if-you-want breakfast-make-it-your-damn-self kind of family.
Ben dreams of being a police officer. And working for Lego. He’s happiest when he’s in his dark, messy room eating microwaved jam doughnuts and making stop-motion movies about a zombie thief being pursued by Sydney’s toughest cop, Ben Silver. Ben is overweight and gets a hard time at school. He has few close friends and a complex relationship with his parents. His father taunts him, calling him a ‘baby’ and a ‘girl’ while his mother gives him helpful weight-loss tips. Ben has never really left the suburbs before. Nature is not his favourite thing but it comes to be his redemption. Ben’s journey is a coming of age, of growing up and reaching maturity – his struggles, mental and physical, help him learn resilience and strength, and to trust his own judgement. He progresses from innocence to experience, from ‘not-knowing’ to knowing, trusting in his own power, as all children must at some point. Ben also discovers that adults are fallible, and that parents don’t always make the best decisions for themselves or their children. What he learns about his family – in particular that his dad and grandfather were criminals – shakes Ben to his core. If they were crims, will he be too? Is it possible to outrun your genes?
Olive is small, white-blonde, seven years-old, one of the smartest kids Ben knows. She has a peculiar way of looking at the world. She read The Hobbit by herself and for three weeks afterwards she refused to speak unless people called her ‘Gandalf’. She has an unbreakable will and sees her father for what he is. At the opening of the story she has not spoken to Dad in over a week after he put her stuffed rabbit, Bonzo, away. She calls Dad ‘Maugrim’, the evil wolf from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Ben would never dare to stand up to Dad the way Olive does.
Ray (‘Dad’) is skinny and serious. An ex-mechanic, salesman and now motor wrecker. He wears an armful of tattoos, black wraparound sunglasses and a dirty cap with a petrol company logo on it. He has a chipped front tooth and looks ‘rat-like’, Ben thinks. Ray is an opportunist and when a large sum of money is mistakenly transferred into his bank account, he transfers the money and sets in motion the events of the story. Ray’s father was a petty criminal who would retreat to a cabin in the bush when the heat was on. Ray wanted a close relationship with him but it was never to be. He is ill-at-ease with fatherhood but there are moments when we see that Ray is trying to do his best with limited resources, that he wants to connect with Ben and Olive but does not know how.
Ben sometimes wonders how Dad ended up with Mum. April is ten years younger than Ray. People said she could have been a model years ago but then Ben was born and that changed everything. Now she works at Ray Silver Motor Wreckers instead. Dad thinks he runs the business but Mum does. Ben knows. At the outset April is trying, desperately, to keep the family together, complying with Ray’s plan, lying to her children to protect them from the crime that has been committed. Her journey forces her to stand up for herself, for her children and to walk away from a man who has undermined her confidence, authority and sense of self since the beginning.