Elderkin, whose debut (the award-winning Sunset Over Chocolate Mountains, 2000) painted a lyric picture of the Arizona desert, now delves into the mysteries of the Australian outback.
The story concerns a young man who hears voices that derive either from his schizophrenia or from his special relationship with the Aboriginal spirits that inhabit the landscape. At the start, Billy wakes up in a hospital bed, having attacked an American tourist on a train after being found wandering along the tracks. The doctors assigned to his case consider insanity his defense against assault charges. His Aboriginal nurse Cecily, however, lets him know in subtle ways that she believes other forces caused his wandering and the strange mutilation of his privates (if it is mutilation, not primitive improvement to his manhood). Elderkin intercuts Billy’s recovery process with his buried memories of a childhood spent with his distant mother and pitiful father in an isolated community being dragged into the modern world by an unscrupulous developer. She also offers the perspective of forces of nature—like the wind—as if they were actual characters that watch over Billy (unless they’re merely voices in this head). In particular, there is the Aboriginal girl—or spirit of a girl—Maisie, who draws the young Billy into her world. Shortly after the boy Billy discovers that his mother is having an affair, he takes Maisie for a joyride in one of his father’s cars and runs into a kangaroo. Distraught, he leaves the outback, becomes a miner, and finds himself platonically involved with a young mother of three. But the forces of nature, which Billy perceives as voices, follow him and draw him back to the land, where he undergoes a transformation—or nervous breakdown. If this all sounds confusing, it is. Tottering between spiritual gobbledygook and psychobabble, Elderkin nevertheless does create lush exotic worlds, although an unfortunate undercurrent of polemic weakens the mystery of what has happened to Billy.
Lots to chew on, but hard to digest.