A debut novel paints an intergenerational portrait of an Australian clan in crisis over one fateful day.
Set in the present day, the story focuses on the Saville family, living in a wealthy suburb north of Sydney. Roger, the patriarch, is an aggressive businessman set to make a profitable yet ethically unsound real estate deal against the reservations of his business partner, Lawrence Beck. One problem, though: Roger’s briefcase, holding some important documents, has vanished, and he must tackle the task of finding it while managing the many moving parts around his deal. Meanwhile his wife, Joanne, despite seemingly having it all, feels oddly empty, worried about the future though unsure of what exactly she should fear. Compounding this is the arrival of her father, the titular Albert Strange, who has come to reconnect with his daughter’s family and march with his 14-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, in the annual Anzac Day parade (“A bit like Independence Day in the States,” one character explains). It’s really more like Memorial Day: a remembrance of those who served in the military. Albert, a World War II veteran, left home when Joanne was young; she feels that time is running out to reconcile with her distant father. Willie, Joanne’s 17-year-old son who has not been home for months, starts his day in an unfamiliar apartment, trying to piece together the events of his drug-fueled night, and then ventures out into the city with two dubious friends. The narration alternates among the characters—Roger, Joanne, Lawrence, Albert, and Willie, mostly—and the storylines intersect and reflect upon one another in intriguing, thought-provoking ways. Canning’s characters are well-rounded and nuanced; although not always likable, they act realistically, and he constantly puts them in compelling situations. In addition to ace character work, the author inserts thoughtful digressions and conversations about war, memory, ethics, business, sexuality, and aging into his novel, making for an absorbing read with few slack moments. Canning’s only trip-ups occur when the action becomes too bogged down in business minutiae, but these are easy to overlook amid the overall quality of the book.
A family saga shines in its depiction of the oddities and inanities of real life and in its delving into the numerous concerns of each day.