Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Peter Carey's Road Trip Is Eye-Opening Novel about Australia

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Peter Carey's Road Trip Is Eye-Opening Novel about Australia

Article excerpt

Interviewed by Aisha Sultan

When*7 p.m. Tuesday

Where*St. Louis County Library, 1640 South Lindbergh Boulevard

How much *Free

More info * 314-994-3300

New neighbors are moving into a house in Bacchus Marsh, Australia, not far from Melbourne. From his bed, the fair-haired Willie Bachhuber peers out the window, his dreams mingling with the activity next door. He sees Titch and Irene Bobs, a petite, doll-like couple, lugging in their belongings. They and their children are making a fresh start that will put some distance between them and Titch's ornery father, the self-proclaimed Dangerous Dan, a public relations machine.

Willie, a radio quiz-show king, suspended schoolteacher and fugitive of sorts, is possessed of a deep intellect and a broken heart. He has an obsession with books and a mania for maps, and he studies the Bobbseys, as he calls them privately, with the same fond intensity as they struggle to set up a car dealership in 1954. And then, surprise! The Bobbseys decide to take part in the 9,600-mile Redex Trial car rally, and we're off.

Peter Carey's readers never know just where they will end up when they open one of his books. In "A Long Way From Home," we circumnavigate Australia, but that road trip, jolted by blasts of the explosive gelignite, courtesy of Dangerous Dan, is the most superficial of the journeys here, just as the maps Willie painstakingly plots as the on-board navigator for the husband-and-wife driving team are the least significant guides.

As Carey describes it, in what could be taken as a metaphor for the book, Willie's "map showed a road but nothing was so definite in real life. It was a cleared strip through scrub, punctuated by washaways, long stretches of sand, sudden jump-ups, blind crests, cattle grids and kamikaze cattle." And that was just one stretch.

When an emergency takes Titch out of the race temporarily, Irene and Willie carry on into parts of the country so far from home they might be another planet. The destination, after a dusty, rocky, slippery trip, is the racism at the heart of Australian history, as it exists in some geographical pockets where the wounds are still raw and the forces of oppression unabashedly untamed. …

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