After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice
Pantheon, 2009 (2008)
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Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg
hen Frank arrives at the rundown shack by the shore in northern Australia, he is running away from his life. He's just recently experienced a bad breakup. Feeling at loose ends, he travels to the home his grandparents escaped to fifty years ago, mostly abandoned since their deaths. He sets to work building a place for himself, befriending the neighbors, finding a job. But his own history of violence comes back to haunt him when a local girl goes missing, and he finds the past doesn't always stay gone for good.
eon is a teenager in 1950s suburban Australia, the beloved only child of parents saved from the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. When his father volunteers to fight in the Korean war, Leon finds himself shouldering the adult responsibility of running his parents' bakery. Upon his return, Leon's father is a changed man, and Leon's relationship with both his parents is strained. When Leon himself is conscripted into the Vietnam war, his own experiences become a mirror to his father's.
fter the Fire, a Still, Small Voice
is an arresting debut novel. As Frank and Leon's stories entwine, and eventually meet, the reader is offered a glimpse into the scarred psyches of men damaged by the violence and horror of war, and the families torn apart by that damage. Wyld's characters have all experienced some sort of tragic loss - loss of a parent, a child, a love - and their faltering attempts to deal with that loss are at the heart of this novel.
But when she was in the bath or at night when she closed the door to her bedroom things became very quiet, like she had sat down just inside the room and stayed still until morning. Sometimes he looked through the keyhole to check she was actually there and she would be lying in bed, the covers up to her throat, with hardly a crease in them. She lay bone straight, her chest barely rising and falling, her eyes wide open. She stared at the ceiling like she was stopping it from falling on her.
yld's simple prose evokes the barren landscape to which Frank retreats, and the loneliness each of her characters struggles with throughout the book. Readers looking for a novel with its ending tied up nicely will be disappointed - the moral of this story is not reconcilliation and forgiveness. However, readers looking for a fascinating character study are encouraged to seek this one out. Its powerful story will make for an unforgettable reading experience.
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