An Australian man struggles to find himself.
Titled after its unnamed hero, Smith-Stevens' first novel follows a directionless young Australian man in New York and Down Under. From his life as a recent college graduate working on Wall Street to his romance with the woman he later marries to his embrace of parkour to his years as an unemployed house-husband tending to his son and living off his unhappy wife's largesse, Smith-Stevens' protagonist shuffles through life as an isolated and passive observer. But his alienation has deeper roots. Estranged from his mother in Melbourne and suffering from the absence of the adventurer father he never met, the Australian has always been unsure of himself and his place in the world (as the reader comes to see through flashbacks). So when he finds out that his mother is sick, he returns to his boyhood home to tend to her in her final days, hoping to reconnect with not just homeland, but with himself. While Smith-Stevens' evocation of alienation is often profound and her prose is always beautiful, the novel seems to lack a sense of purpose. When the Australian remembers a childhood assignment to meditate on the concept of duende—a notoriously hard-to-translate Spanish word that the novel defines as "the spirit of evocation, soul, and creative expression"— it seems ironic, because it is the exact quality, namely the sense of a soul, that Smith-Stevens’ frequently listless novel lacks. Throughout the entirety of the book, the Australian simply is, and while his motivations or interior life are always clear, he never really becomes more than the cipher that his name suggests.
A protagonist—and a novel—without any real sense of purpose.