Sun, surf and the ’70s Down Under provide the backdrop for the story of a boy’s awakening through rough sex.
Paramedic Bruce Pike and his partner answer a medical emergency call at a suburban home. In a bedroom crowded with rock-star and hot-chick posters, Bruce finds the body of a 17-year-old boy who appears to have committed suicide. But Bruce, a middle-aged dad, knows better, and the narrative turns back to his adolescence to explain how he knows. Australian author Winton (The Turning: Stories, 2005, etc.) offers a tight narrative notable for its empathetic characters and effectively spare use of shock. Growing up in the tiny outback town of Sawyer, Bruce is besotted with swimming. His quiet, orderly parents don’t dig his friendship with surf-and-diving whiz Loonie, a daredevil one year older than Bruce. Even less do they cotton to Sando, the hippie surf-stallion who becomes the boys’ guru and guide to All Things Wild. Discovering that Sando had been a star of sorts at the sport of hanging ten, they worship him even more as he takes them farther out to higher and higher waves. Equally compelling, in a more fearsome way, is Sando’s squeeze, blonde, scornful, tight-bodied Eva. She was once famous, too, the boys find out, a Snow Goddess skiing champ. As Loonie and Sando dangerously bond, Bruce falls for aloof Eva. Her tour of the mysteries of love includes introducing him to her dangerous fixation on auto-asphyxiation for maximum erotic kicks. So when paramedic Bruce examines the body of the 17-year-old suspected of killing himself, he blames thrill-gone-wrong sex. Bruce has been there, done that and emerged wiser, world-weary and chastened. Period details like Eva’s Captain Beefheart and Ravi Shankar records add verisimilitude, and Winton handles youthful angst like a hipper John Knowles.
Lyricism empowers this stoner rite-of-passage saga, which also conveys a timeless pathos.