Distrust the subtitle. While it's true enough the 50 men whose stories comprise this book
are New Zealanders, they weren't chosen for demographic spread or any other set of
representative qualities. This is not the book you would get if you climbed to a high place and looked out across the uplands and lowlands of Kiwi masculinity.
It's actually the 50th anniversary publication of a private Auckland gym.
I don't mean to be snarky about this. The Atrium Club, a men-only establishment on Federal St, sounds like a perfectly decent place full of perfectly decent blokes. For this book, members were asked to write about "a moment in their lives: one that may have enriched them for the better or shaken them for the worse, but a moment that has a continuing resonance ..."
Some of the responses are of enormous interest. Glynn Cardy, the former vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City, writes about what it was like dealing with the fallout from the Church's brilliantly controversial billboards of 2004-2009. Television producer Max Adams writes about visiting Sarajevo shortly after the Dayton Accord, for TVNZ's 60 Minutes. Documentary-maker John Keir writes about being 28 years old and setting out to make his first feature on Justice Peter Mahon's inquiry into the Erebus disaster: a trial by fire that he describes vividly, and which produced a vital film. Mark Sainsbury gives a puckish and involving account of his trip to Nepal with Tom Scott and Sir Edmund Hillary, during which Sir Ed was struck down by altitude sickness and had to be kept alive with minimal oxygen gear in the middle of a terrible storm.
This is a pretty good haul for one club to boast. Other stories range over long-ago boyhood memories, the experience of coming to New Zealand as an immigrant, and various business, military, and sporting arenas. It's all good-humoured and the production standards are high; if I were a club member I'd feel well served.
It has to be said, though, that the sweeping majority of these pieces are of minor general interest. It's no discredit to the authors that their prose skills are mostly in the school newsletter range; they write like the non-writers most of them are. In many cases, a sharper edit might have been a good idea, especially on the punctuation front. I can't imagine this misleadingly titled volume is going to prove a huge hit outside the charmed circle of the Atrium Club.
Stories Men Tell: New Zealand Men Talk About Their Lives
Edited by Neville Aitchison and John Keir
(Mary Egan Publishing $38)