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By the award-winning Australian author (not widely read here), a four-generation family tale set in Australia's early chaotic frontiers and later in its lonely bypassed settlements. Home is a place too small for big dreams or the stretch of a restless soul, but it's also where one is loved in defeat. Here, the descendants of a Canadian dreamer rage at injustice and at things as they boringly, sourly are--and then they leave home--some forever--reliving and restating the lives of those gone before. Self-employed newsman, charm-gilded Cornelius Laffey (b. 1838)--who'd brought his wife, a banker's daughter, to mud-caked frontier towns; who's flown his futile banners of words and deeds against the ongoing genocide of black natives; whose wife had strengthened as his prospects weakened; whose daughter had borne a bastard--simply left his family one day, not to be spotted again for 40 years. Cornelius' daughter, bored at home, joining a convivial group of prostitutes, dies a watery, curiously companionable death, while Cornelius' son and grandson burrow into toil and isolation between wars, to find, respectively, a patient drudgery and a roaring, self-immolating obsession. Another grandson, Cornelius' lusty echo, will also take his own life. The last Laffey male, rebel and cynic--the latest to leave home--just might return ""to start the cycle all over again."" And he would take along the descendant of a generation of persecuted natives. As for the women--they're fighters all, as they hurl from home base their scorn for the cruel, the phoney and the unjust, while they love and endure and love again. No cozy kitchen-table family here--the Laffeys fizz and exit like shooting stars. Again, Astley writes with a snapping intensity as the loudmouthed Laffeys (a bit outsized, it's true) propel their rebellions and anger on the stark, blistering, flooding tumult of the land. As in Astley's The Beachmasters (1986)--an acerbic indictment of colonial-style power-grabs--there is stinging social commentary, flip humor and the sweaty clash of human conflict. Noisy and grabbing.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1987
Publisher: Putnam