Frank has returned to his childhood playground, a beach cottage near Queensland, to sort out his life after a devastating breakup, a relationship that inevitably ended when he became physically violent with his girlfriend. He loathes what he did, and runs to hide in a place that he thinks will comfort him. Once there, memories begin to eat at him, becoming so real that he turns his head and alerts to their arrival.
He can’t relate to his new violent streak, and tries to analyze what has happened since his mother’s death that turned him. Violence would have been more appropriate, more expected, from his father or even his grandfather, both veterans of brutal warfare in Asia. As the novel continues, the narration explores the experiences of both of those men in war and at home.
It’s oversimplified to say that war changed them, and Wyld doesn’t take us down that well-worn path. Rather, what makes this story complex is how it changed everyone else. Wives and girlfriends alternate between comforters and enemies, their every action subject to the random and unpredictable moods of their men.
“ Some fellas, they make the women lonely. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you, mate, but maybe that’s why you’re here”
Frank sorts through his memories while being befriended by a small girl and her pet carrot. A missing teenager and a grieving couple complicate his life while his coworkers rail against the Aboriginal natives that reside in the community. All the while his memories and fears creep up on him though he tries to ignore them. At one point, he makes a conscious decision to rid himself of tangible items to remove the memories that go with them:
“Makes things easier having less stuff. See, if I keep them I’ve got to find a place to put them in – probably in a box or something so they don’t get broken…And when you start to get older that sort of thing gets to be more of a problem.”
This novel focuses on the intimate details of these men and their lives in a setting of urbanization and change. Wyld describes subtle gestures and inner thoughts flawlessly, and invents these entirely new flawed characters like none I’ve read before. Her writing style reminds me of Tim Winton (my favorite author), with its focus on the Australian bush and seaside with their colors and plants and weather. An unexpected sweetness is found mixed in with the brutality of war. A really enjoyable story that makes me eager for her next book.
This novel was recently nominated for Best First Book in the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Special thanks to K. Freeman at Knopf/Random House for the Advanced Review Copy.