This marvelous postmodern novel of family life by bestselling Australian writer Winton (Minimum of Two, That Eye, the Sky, etc.) celebrates all the great traditional values in writing that is emphatically contemporary. As Fish Lamb, whose nature and tragedy shape the story, prepares to return to the river he has yearned for ever since he was saved from drowning as a small boy, two families, the Lambs and the Pickleses, picnicking on the riverbank, are celebrating a momentous decision in their joint lives. The two families--who are working-class and scarred by past failures, and who for 20 years have shared the enormous old house that the Pickleses inherited on Cloud Street--have overcome daunting spiritual, moral, and physical adversities to reach this point. The Pickles family--Sam, who has lost the fingers of one hand in an accident; Dolly, who was abused as a child by her sisters; and their three children--have been adversely affected by Sam's belief in luck (``the shifty shadow of God''). The Lambs, whose religious faith was lost when Fish, after being saved from drowning, turned out to be retarded, are hard- working mystics determined to survive. The house itself, as much a metaphor as a setting, is haunted--and is the least credible part of the novel--by malevolent ghosts and by an Aborigine angel who appears serendipitously. The families fight, suffer, teeter on the edge of disaster, but love--young Rosa Pickles and Quick Lamb marry--and the will to endure bring them through. Fish, always sensitive to the dangers surrounding them over the years, is finally able to return to the river where he can savor the families' ``healing all the rest of his journey.'' One of those rare novels that warm the heart, as well as spark the imagination.