Australian-born Howe's debut novel about coming-of-age Down Under: an overly choppy narrative that includes all the usual rites of passage. Sarah Ashton grows up in Melbourne, her loyalties torn between her Communist father--who is sometimes the magic daddy who grams wishes and sometimes the oppressive tyrant who wants total control of her life--and her English-born, Oxford-educated grandmother, who retains some aristocratic grace in spite of the reversals of her fortunes. Her mother has retreated into passivity to avoid domestic strife. The novel jumps about in quick takes told in simple prose, scenes from Sarah's childhood alternating with the events of her young adult life: with her friend Emma, she takes a summer job at a resort where she is attracted to Leon Villiers, a physically and emotionally damaged older man; back in Melbourne, Sarah (who wants to study Fine Arts and become a writer) is forced by her father to take a physiotherapy course; she begins a secret affair with Leon, who is obsessed with his "friend"--a caged lion in the zoo. Leon's behavior is often exploitative and bizarre: he ties Sarah to the bedposts one night after seeing her dance with another man. When he is arrested for shooting the lion, and Sarah's father threatens to have her put in detention, she escapes both men by taking a physiotherapy job in America, her first step to freedom. Sarah's situation wins sympathy, but her character never comes to sufficient life to make her story do the same.