After the Fire a Still Small Voice
Though they are disparate main characters, Frank and Leon are a complex blend of traits and similar desires as each tries to find themselves. Both want to discover who they are and what they want and need out of their lives. The setting is eastern Australia in the 1960s, and the opening pages introduce the reader to Frank, who moves into an inherited rundown shack, and whose unhappy and violent childhood has left its stamp; as an adult he is a withdrawn loner attempting to reinvent himself as a regular guy in a small community on the east coast. The other, Leon, a child of European settlers, eventually becomes a conscripted machine-gunner in the Vietnam War.
Alternating chapters deal with their lives, their relationships and, especially, their characters. The author’s distinctly descriptive style flows easily with Leon, and his military comrades as they encounter war, combat and eventual comprehension of what matters and means most to him. Frank’s character analysis is less flowing, perhaps because there are just so many descriptive nouns that can be captured in one sentence without overwhelming the reader. He, too, eventually finds a peace, albeit through an inner turmoil that at times was irritating rather than readable. Yet this became for me a worthwhile read as the author’s style engaged and challenged my own preconceptions of the main characters. This is a debut novel and not an easy read, but one that is worth staying the course, as its richness of prose is evocative.