Wednesday, May 13, 2009

That Eye, That Sky by Tim Winton

Yep, more Winton. I should know Australia pretty well by now, after all these books. Spoiler alert!

That Eye, That Sky is his most bewildering novel so far (at least to me). I finished it with a huge sense of what? I made the mistake of going online to see if there was a reading guide or cheat sheet that explains "this is what he meant". I ended up just finding a bunch of reader's suggestions that it all had to do with conversion to Christianity by way of one of the character's (Henry) sudden appearance.

It starts with the ominous warning of a mother telling her son to always wave goodbye when someone leaves, as you may never see them again. You know that can't bode well.

The novel itself is told in the voice of a ten year old boy, whose father is rendered incapacitated by a car wreck (and no, the kid didn't wave goodbye). His teen sister, his long suffering mom and his Alzheimer inflicted grandmother fill out the family tree. They are barely managing, out in the woods, practically camping, when the accident occurs and changes their lives. Henry shows up to 'help' and has long philosophical discussions with the mom and sister, while helping them care for the father. This leads the mother and son into seeking purpose and God's aid.

Do I think Henry helped them? Actually, I have to disagree with all the other online opinions. I think Henry hampered them in everything. I think he represented evil. They weren't considered bad caregivers until Henry was 'helping' them. He ends up seducing their teenage daughter and contributed to her wild behavior. I think the fact that the mother tolerated him for his help is what alienated the daughter in the first place and made her more susceptible to his advances. And the suggestion is made that he prevents the father from actually recovering. I think the mother and son would have had their quest for spiritual guidance regardless of Henry's visit; people in tough times often reevaluate their needs.

I loved his voice as Morton: he sounds just like a kid with kid thoughts and explanations. He must have been a young boy once! I was also interested in how he felt watched by the sky all the time, I think essentially he was describing his conscience. He knew right and wrong, and he had a good heart.

It left me with many questions: why is no other family mentioned? Why is the daughter so angry all the time? Who is the person the grandmother keeps calling out for? How are they getting by financially? Is it possible that the daughter and Henry had a prior acquaintance with each other, and his visit was subterfuge for being there with her?

I don't mind the questions, I like pondering this kind of stuff. I do think Winton took the easy way out by portraying any "church people" as cliche'd personalities: hateful and judgmental (the Lutherans) or theatrical and creepy (the Catholics). That surprised me a bit, usually he delves a little deeper than what you would expect from a skit on Saturday Night Live.

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