The Strays, Emily Bitto’s whirlwind tale of avant-garde artists in 1930s Australia, left an abiding impression upon me. “Wild Abandon” offers a vastly different narrative, both in content and style, but cements the author’s status as one of Australia’s most ambitious, serious novelists. The novel, written in a grandiose (yet grounded) style that reminded me of both Updike and DeLillo, takes enormous risks and succeeds grandly. Like a modern-day Nick Carroway, naive Australian Will, reeling from hometown heartbreak, embarks on a end-of-days adventure through end-of-days, capitalistic America in 2011. From his druggy excesses in glittering New York, Will ends up as a barely-competent assistant to a PTSD-damaged U.S. veteran coping (almost) with a misfit menagerie of exotic wild beasts in remote rural Ohio. From the start, Will lurches from mishap to mishap, heading for the big crash.
The author’s capacious style soars over the modern and rural landscapes. The portrayals of the lions, wolves and other animals in their cages is magnificent, conveying their raw power, majesty, and beauty. The author does not hesitate to swing from an immersive, lyrical view from Will’s unschooled viewpoint into snap portraits of Will by those he meets, and these disjunctive flights of storytelling are most impressive, reminding me of Rushdie at his best. The plot of Wild Abandon is both luxuriant and relentlessly tense, and the eventual denouement of Will’s road trip is stunning.
Wild Abandon will surely win awards, local and overseas.