Email this review


It's August 11, 1931, and Sam Collins is ""zipping down Riversdale Road hill with sixty-four Heralds over the bar of his bike, minding his own business, whistling a tune--and bang!"" Suddenly as that, Sam crashes into a parked tram and is jarred loose from his moorings. Rather than pay back the eight shillings for the damaged newspapers, the dazed fourteen-year-old hops a freight to New South Wales and becomes a ""swaggie."" His mind roams even more freely: A succession of helpful young women and girls become incarnations of Rose, the neighbor girl who got him in trouble when all he'd wanted was a kiss. And the cold and insecurity trigger flashes nine years into the future when Sam will be/is a pilot risking his life in aerial combat and the father of a son by Mary Staines, the shopkeeper's daughter who hides him, and who finally delivers that first, magical kiss. ""You'll always come back to me, won't you Sam? . . . I'll always care, Sam; till I die,"" says Mary just before Sam hits the road again one step ahead of her suspicious father. Looked at in the cold light of day, the plot is unutterably romantic, the loneliness of childhood redeemed by a maiden's kiss and adulthood delivered with a bang on the head. But Southall's rabbit punch attack keeps the reader properly off balance so that, rather against one's better judgment, one is pulled along by his contention that childhood is ""a fog"" from which we awake into myth. Slightly rarefied Southall, and the preoccupation is a good deal less accessible than it was in Matt and Jo (1973) but Sam is imbued with just enough grubby desperation to see him through.

Publisher: Macmillan