THE EASY WAY OUT
By Steven Amsterdam
Reviewed by Graeme Aitken
This Melbourne author shot to prominence with his first book Things I Didn’t See Coming. Published by a small press, it won the 2009 The Age Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award.
Now Hachette Australia have published Amsterdam’s new novel which is certain to attract more prizes, a great deal of attention and probably some controversy. The plot revolves around Evan, a nurse employed at a legal euthanasia program. There are guidelines and protocols and endless legal safeguards and hoops to jump through, but once all that is accomplished, it is Evan who hands you the last drink … the glass of Nembutal. That is, if he doesn’t spill it first!
The novel opens as Evan first begins working at the program, but it also explores his complicated relationship with his own mother Viv, who suffers from Parkinson’s and has had to go into a care home. One upshot of Viv moving to the care home was that Evan encountered Lon, a nurse there. They hooked up the same night they met and when Lon revealed that he had a partner, Simon, Evan wasn’t fazed. He preferred couples. “My thing about sleeping with couples: when it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, you can leave and they’ll still have each other. Nobody gets hurt.”
Steven Amsterdam works as a palliative care nurse and his knowledge of his subject shines through, along with a wry wit and deadpan realism. ‘The old folks … get rolled inside to fail their tests, endure their complications and, amid the solitude of never enough visitors, discover the last truth (sorry we’re out of options).”
This is the best new Australian novel you are likely to read this year – it is compelling, intelligent, and helmed by a big critical social issue that is explored in all its complexity.