Writing & News

Reviews of Excitable Boy by Dominic Gordon

We’ve been receiving some excellent reviews of our April 2024 debut book of narrative nonfiction. Here are a few–

From The Guardian Australia by Catriona Menzies-Pike


Catriona also provided a further set of responses on her Substack newsletter Infra-Dig, shared with her permission (subscribe is my advice!)


From The Guardian Australia, a short one by Steph Harmon


From The Saturday Paper by Stephen Romei 4/5/24

The title of Dominic Gordon’s debut book, Excitable Boy: Essays on Risk, is borrowed from the 1978 song by American musician Warren Zevon. The excitable boy in this memoir – the author – is not as bad as the rapist and murderer in the song, but nor is he good. He’s a thief and a drug addict. An illegal graffiti artist, brawler and glory hole-user, sex club and brothel regular. He’s a film buff who loves crime thrillers because he wants to emulate the criminals he sees on screen.

The setting is Melbourne from the 1990s to 2020, covering Gordon’s life from his mid-teens to early 30s. “I was an intense kid,” he writes, “and I took my obsessions seriously.” In an author’s note, Melbourne-based Gordon says “many names have been changed in this book but nothing else, because it all happened”. Different readers will have their own responses to what happened. Those of Gordon’s generation may relate to the grimier side of Melbourne night-life. Marginalised people may understand being “trapped in one of life’s backwaters not knowing how you got there or how to get out”. Others may dismiss the author’s experiences and suggest he “grow up, get a job”.

Gordon is “not really sure” why so many of his childhood friends from Melbourne’s western suburbs “went on to have such troubled lives”. Possible reasons include lack of employment opportunities, “shit fathers”, drugs and crime, suburban gentrification.

Excitable Boy is a series of non-chronological vignettes in which Gordon details his risky, messed-up life without self-pity, moral judgement or self-help advice. He writes with humour – listening to a motivational speaker at the employment centre “I felt like my face muscles had been blown back as if I’d been facing an airplane engine” – and occasional beauty, such as when he’s hospitalised and sees his mother by his bedside, “aged considerably, as though three decades chased her down in one night”. Gordon takes readers to places they will want to leave and introduces them to people they’d rather not know. That may be the point, as the novelist Christos Tsiolkas notes in an introduction to the book: Gordon is “a writer punching you in the gut, making you recognise that you don’t know as much as you think you know”. 

Upswell, 176pp, $29.99

From the SMH/The Age in their digest of new titles by Cameron Woodhead and Fiona Capp 11/5/24

Excitable Boy
Dominic Gordon, Upswell, $29.99

Junkies and fugitives who cruise the state library with “salivating eyeballs”. A mysterious insect-like ex-crim with “a fair bit of coin” who has been living at a hip inner-city hotel for years. Graffiti artists addicted to the adrenalin of risk that leaves them feeling “primal, precipice-close. Alive.” These are just some of the characters, hidden in plain sight, who populate Dominic Gordon’s broken-bottle-sharp stories about growing up in Melbourne’s working-class western suburbs.

The first few stories are spare and tight as a drum. But as Gordon journeys back into his youth, there is a pell-mell quality to them that reflects the inchoate desires driving him to break the law and his body in his quest for thrills and escape.

As he documents his attraction to the city’s underbelly and his darkest impulses, his stories ring with the unvarnished truth as Gordon challenges us not to look away.

From The Conversation by Luke Johnson 23/4/24