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Peter Carey

Far from being a struggling artist, Peter Carey burst upon the scene with proverbial silver spoon in his mouth.  Born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia, on May 7, 1943, Carey's parents owned and operated the local General Motors car dealership.  From that, they made enough money to live a good full life while sending their son to a private boarding school, "where the children of Australia's Best Families all spoke with English accents."

In college, Carey studied chemistry and zoology, but he wasn't a very good student and struggled constantly with his courses.  He had recently failed his first-year exams when he was involved in a bad car accident.  He sat there following the accident, covered in glass and blood, thinking about how he suddenly had an excuse not to return to school.

Carey took a job at an advertising agency where most of the other employees were aspiring writers, and his coworkers led him to books by William Faulkner, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and Samuel Beckett.  He had never before read great literature.  He said, "Literature arrived in this weird and very exciting way all at once, and it was like every book that I read at that time changed my life."

In his free time, Carey began writing fiction.  After years of rejections from numerous publishers, he began writing a series of offbeat short stories.  In one, a man peels his wife like an onion, only to find a plastic doll at her center.  Another centered around a pig addicted to narcotics.  The stories were collected in books such as The Fat Man In History (1974), which received rave reviews.

Carey continued to support himself by writing advertising copy, although he kept his job a secret so that his friends, mostly liberals and communists, wouldn't learn what he did for a living.  They eventually found out, but to Carey's surprise, they were pleased that one of "their own" had infiltrated and actually profited from the Capitalist system.

Throughout the 1980s, Carey published a string of offbeat novels involving businessmen, con artists, and criminals.  One, Bliss (1981), is about an advertising executive named Harry Joy who begins losing his mind following a near-death experience.  Illywhacker (1985) is about a 139-year-old compulsive liar whose life parallels the history of independent Australia.  Oscar and Lucinda (1988) is about two compulsive gamblers traveling through nineteenth century Australia.  It won the Booker Prize for literature. 

"My great-grandfather drifted up the Bellinger River like a blind man up the central aisle of Notre Dame.  He saw nothing.  The country was thick with sacred stories more ancient than the ones he carried in his sweat-slippery leather Bible.  He did not even imagine their presence.  Some of these stories were as small as the transparent anthropods that lived in the puddles beneath the river casuarinas.  These stories were like fleas, thrip, so tiny that they might inhabit a place (inside the ears of the seeds of grass) he would later walk across without even seeing.  In this landscape every rock had a name, and most names had spirits, ghosts, meanings." - from Oscar and Lucinda

In 1990, Carey moved with his son and theater-director wife, Alison Summers, to New York where he taught creative writing at the University.  In True Story of the Kelly Gang (2001), a novel, he sought to resurrect the human emotions that make sense of the story.  Although it might sound like a standard historical novel, Erica Wagner writing in The Times said, "...it stands head and shoulders above the genre."

Jonathan Levi, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said, "Carey's pen writes with an ink that is two parts archaic and one part modern and colors a prose that rocks and cajoles the reader into a certainty that Ned Kelly is fit company not only for Jack Palance and Clint Eastwood but for Thomas Jefferson...."

"I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false." - from True Story of the Kelly Gang

Carey's 2003 novel, My Life as a Fake (2003), was inspired by Australia's most famous literary hoax, which completely humiliated one editor and a number of modernist poets.  His most recent work, Theft (2006), is every bit as bizarre.  Told by the twin voices of artist Butcher Bones and his “damaged two-hundred-and-twenty-pound brother,” it recounts the brothers' adventures and troubles after Butcher's drinking problem forces them to retreat to New South Wales where the formerly famous artist becomes a caretaker and a nurse to his erratic sibling.

When the mysterious Marlene turns up, claiming that the brothers' friend and neighbor owns an original Jacques Liebovitz, she sets in motion a chain of events that could be the making or ruin of them all.

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