From the author of Shallows (p. 671), a Faulknerian saga about modern whaling, comes this spunky and symbol-laden short novel about redemption in the life of a dirt-poor family in Western Australia. Back in the 60's, Sam Flack and his wife Alice dropped out of the mainstream (""We were hippies,"" says Alice) and went to live in a shabby, tin-roofed house, choosing it because it was near the forest that Sam especially loved. Since then, logging has taken most of the trees, and disease is getting the rest, but life has managed to go on even so. Working as a mechanic in a sleazy garage and for an even sleazier boss, Sam supports a household that includes himself and Alice, their two children (Tegwyn, a hormone-maddened teen-ager; and Morton--""Ort for short""--age 10), as well as a comically senile, bedridden grandmother: Sam manages, that is, until he wrecks his truck and ends up a paraplegic unable to move, talk, or even feed himself. What saves this Tobacco Road melodrama from the hopelessly squalid and pathetic is the plucky voice of young Ort, who narrates the whole in a Huck Finn tone, with a sensitive and unflaggingly irreverent energy supplied by his wordsmith author. As the family seems about to be destroyed by a cosmic and overwhelming hopelessness, there appears at the door one Henry Warburton, drifter, ex-poet, and ex-hippie, his mind half boiled away by LSD, but a man imbued now with a latter-day Christian zeal to help and to heal. He moves in with the family, and things seem to improve, but then slowly decline toward catastrophe as Henry has bouts of madness, is revealed to be a thief, and runs off finally with rage-filled and sex-driven Tegwyn. Novel's end, however, is filled with symbols of light and redemption: says Ort at the close, ""I know that something, something here in this world is gonna break. ""The religious backbone and symbols threaten to reduce the book to a parable of the read-two-meanings-into-everything kind, but Ort's unlettered perceptions and Winton's pure verbal energies manage to hold things to a sturdier plane. In all: old country roads traveled with considerable gusto.