Renowned Australian novelist Winton (The Boy Behind the Curtain, 2016, etc.) turns once again to the dark side of the Antipodean dream.
Jaxie Clackton, whose very name sounds like a curse, is a poster child for teenage disaffection. As Winton’s story opens, he’s on the run. And for good reason: As that story begins to unfold, we learn that his stepfather, whom he unlovingly calls “Captain Wankbag”—“that bucket of dog sick was a bastard to both of us,” he protests to his mother, who will soon die of cancer—has wound up on the wrong side of a jacked-up car, and Jaxie fears that the good people of Monkton will assume the worst: “They’ll say I kicked the jack out from under the roo bar and crushed his head like a pig melon.” Given a long history of drunken beatings and loud arguments, the neighbors would have a point, so Jaxie lights out for the territory, where his girlfriend awaits him. First, though, Jaxie has to go to Ned Kelly and hide out for a while, which puts him in the Outback orbit of a disgraced ex-priest named Fintan who, alone with his books in a dusty camp, makes a poor hermit, given as he is to outrushing bursts of speech: “Please God, whatever I was I am no longer….All is forgotten, if not forgiven—it could have come to that. But I don’t trust the thought. I don’t know if it’s because it would be too easy or too terrible to imagine no one cares anymore.” Unaccustomed to the strange discipline of the place—Fintan even gives him a toothbrush, for heaven’s sake—Jaxie is suspicious, secretive, a short step away from violence. He has an opportunity to make use of that penchant once others discover Fintan’s whereabouts, leaving it to Jaxie to become “an instrument of God” in all his terrible wrath.
Winton’s story is worthy of a Peckinpah film—and splendidly written, if disturbing to the core.