After the Fire, a Still Small Voiceby Evie Wyld
After the departure of the woman he loves, Frank struggles to rebuild his life among the sugarcane and sand dunes that surround his oceanside shack. Forty years earlier, Leon is drafted to serve in Vietnam and finds himself suddenly confronting the same experiences that haunt his war-veteran father. As these two stories weave around each other—each narrated
After the departure of the woman he loves, Frank struggles to rebuild his life among the sugarcane and sand dunes that surround his oceanside shack. Forty years earlier, Leon is drafted to serve in Vietnam and finds himself suddenly confronting the same experiences that haunt his war-veteran father. As these two stories weave around each other—each narrated in a voice as tender as it is fierce—we learn what binds Frank and Leon together, and what may end up keeping them apart.
Set in the unforgiving landscape of eastern Australia, Evie Wyld’s accomplished debut tackles the inescapability of the past, the ineffable ties of family, and the wars fought by fathers and sons.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Incandescent. . . . An eerie chiaroscuro of blinding sunlight and tenebrous bush, rendered in language so naturalistic and sensual it seems more felt than read. . . . After the Fire has the kind of dark shimmer that mesmerizes as it disturbs. . . . What distinguishes Wyld is her incandescent empathy for her male characters and the things they are unable to say, the assurance with which she reaches for a rough-edged authenticity over the easy pleasures of lyricism.”
“This surefooted and even-handed multi-layered tale is fiction writing at its best with characters so vividly drawn, they seem to literally leap off of the printed pages.”
“An astonishingly assured debut. . . . A stunning work from a brilliant new voice.”
“Mesmerising. . . . A novel both taut and otherworldly. This adroit examination of loss, lostness and trauma is the beginning of great things [for Wyld].”
—The Independent (London)
“A gritty novel. . . . Rough and beautiful. . . . It speaks to the muscle in Wyld’s writing, which in richly telling detail describes the experiences 40 years apart of two Australian men. . . . Wyld distinguishes herself as another fine Australian novelist.”
“Written in pithy, crystal-sharp prose, this is a compelling read that uses the Australian landscape to mirror its characters’ equally unforgiving emotional terrain.”
“Wyld has a feel both for beauty and for the ugliness of inherited pain. The mood is creepy—strange creatures in the sugar cane, grieving neighbors, a missing local girl—and the sentiment is plain: ‘Sometimes people aren’t all right and that’s just how it is.’”
—The New Yorker
“A terrifically self-assured debut. . . . It’s a cauterising, cleansing tale, told with muscular writing.”
—The Guardian (London)
“A searching study of the way war-induced damage passes from fathers to sons. . . . Uniting the disparate narratives is Wyld’s brisk, atmospheric style and her fascination with men who commit appalling acts, but are not appalling people.”
—Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Passionate. . . . After the Fire is not a book of simple feelings. . . . One must admire Wyld for her courage.”
“Just sometimes, a book is so complete, so compelling and potent, that you are fearful of breaking its hold. This is one. . . . With awesome skill and whiplash wit, Evie Wyld knits together past and present, with tension building all the time. In Peter Carey and Tim Winton, Australia has produced two of the finest storytellers working today. On this evidence, Wyld can match them both.”
—Daily Mail (London)
“Ravishingly atmospheric and wisely compassionate. . . . There’s no doubt that Wyld is a writer of immense abilities and depth.”
“A triumph of subtle, original and unsentimental writing . . . Wyld explores the restrictions and distortions in the lives of men who won’t or can’t talk through whatever is eating away at them [with] great restraint and poignancy.”
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
The sun turned the narrow dirt track to dust. It rose like an orange tide from the wheels of the truck and blew in through the window to settle in Frank Collard’s arm hair. He remembered the place feeling more tropical, the soil thicker and wetter. The sugar cane on either side of the track was thin and reedy, wild with a brown husk and sick-looking green tops. The same old cane that hadn’t been harvested in twenty years swayed like a green sea. Blue gums and box trees hepped out of it, not bothered with the dieback. Once it would all have been hardwood. In the time his grandparents had lived out here, just the two of them, before the new highway, maybe then this place was a shack in the woods.
The clearing was smaller than he remembered, like the cane had slunk closer to the pale wooden box hut. The banana tree stooped low over a corrugated roof. He turned off the engine and sagged in his seat for a moment taking it in. There was a tweak at the back of his neck and when he slapped it his palm came away bloody.
‘Home again home again diggidy dig.’
He could have driven here without thinking. He could have turned the radio up loud and listened to the memorial service at Australia Zoo. They were calling them revenge killings, the stingrays found mutilated up and down Queensland beaches. He could have let his hands steer him to Mulaburry, those same roads he’d hitched along as a kid, sun-scarred and spotty, scrawny as a feral dog without the bulky calves and wide hands he had now. But never mind that, he’d still pulled over on to the slip road and smoothed out the map and read aloud the places, and he still sent his eyes over and over the landmarks, searching for the turn-offs he knew were not written down. The tension in his arms had got so strong he wanted to bust a fist through the windscreen but instead, as a road train roared by and rocked the Ute in its wake, he’d clutched the wheel, crumpling the map as he did it, feeling small tears made by his fingertips. He had gripped the wheel hard so that it burnt, and he pushed like it might relieve the feeling in his arms. But it didn’t help and then he was outside, banging his fists on the bonnet for all that he was worth, his nose prickling, his throat closed up, the bloody feel of some bastard terrible thing swimming inside him. And when he was done and spent, he had climbed back into the truck and refolded the buggered map, and when he couldn’t make it fit together he’d laughed softly and started the engine.
The air outside was thick with insect noise, heavy with heat, and the old gums groaned. The padlock on the door was gone and the idea that some other bastard might have claimed the place as his own nearly made him turn round and shoo all the way back to Canberra. The whole thing was suddenly hare-brained. Tearing through drawers at home trying to find some sort of clue as to what he was supposed to be doing, he’d found an envelope with a picture of his mum in, taken on one summer holiday at the shack. There she was, hanging up a sheet in the sun, the same wide teeth as him, the same sort of boneless nose. Different hair, though – hers a blonde animal that moved in the wind. He was like his father, wiry, black, not from these parts. By her shoulder was the window and inside you could just make out a jam jar with a flower in it. It was like being smacked on the arse by God. Couldn’t have been more than a month after she was hanging up that sheet that they’d been driving in his dad’s old brown Holden when a truck hadn’t stopped at the intersection. When he woke up there was no more mum and no more old brown Holden.
It wasn’t difficult getting out of the rental agreement. He’d been late and short in the last three months since Lucy left. A week from then and he was on the road, two suitcases of clothes, the rest of everything in boxes for the op-shop and the padlock keys burning his thigh through his pocket. He’d taken the first part of the journey that evening, ended up in a motel close to midnight, with a sun-faded poster of a lion eating a zebra above his bed. He hadn’t slept, he’d drunk from a three-quarters empty bottle of Old and he’d let himself think about Lucy then. The sick feeling of trying to make it all right. The endless meetings they’d had across the table, to see if there was a way round it. The months afterwards when he’d sweated if he dropped a plate, the look on her face. Careful, or I’m going. Or when the coat hangers tangled themselves and made a jangling as he shook them, her pointed silence. There were other things he thought of in that wide-awake night. Being alone, fixing himself up. Getting done with the drink, sorting through the things in his head as she’d wanted him to.
He stopped the Ute and opened the door. Holding his hat on to his head, he stepped into the sound of cicadas that shrilled like pushbike bells from the cane. He slammed the door louder than he’d meant to and walked towards the shack. The smell of sweet ozone and the clump of his boots in the dust was alien. It was darker and smaller than he remembered. It tilted inwards a little like a sagging tent. He cleared his throat.
‘Hey!’ he called before reaching for the door. Inside it hadn’t changed, and it made his chest tight to see. There should have been broken windows, mess left by kids, dust and leaks, mould on the walls. But there was not. The shack had a feeling about it like it’d been waiting. There were no wildflowers in jars, it wasn’t swept, there wasn’t the sparkle of sand in the cracks of the floorboards, but the placement of things was just the same. It was like the last person there could have been his grommet self fifteen years ago and it made a warmth at the back of his throat. No one was there. There were no other belongings, just the old things that had lived there for ever. On a high shelf a grey elephant, a kewpie doll and a mother-of-pearl shell. The wedding-cake figurines of his parents and grandparents that had always stood on the telephone table, dustless inside their glass bell jar. There was no telephone – he’d forgotten that. Sat on the stack of plastic chairs in the corner, a Father Christmas with a felt body and a rubber face. The wood-burning stove that had been put together a little wrong and now and again used to chug black smoke into the room, which would have his mother up and in the doorway coughing and flapping with a tea towel. He took a step inside and heard the familiar creak of the floor. The place wouldn’t recognise him this heavy or hairy. The sink was dry, with a sprinkling of dead flies upside-down in it. The beds were there too, a double and a rickety single all close together so that as a kid he’d lain awake, wide-eyed at the sound of his parents at night, wondering what is that and why are they doing it? A thin blue and white striped blanket covered his old bed, tucked at the feet in the way he hated, where you’d have to kick your way free, so your feet didn’t pin you down.
He dragged out the mattresses and afterwards he slung the bed frames in the back of the Ute. The idea of sleeping on either of them filled him with dread. The smell might be there, his mother’s hand cream, or the witch hazel his father used for aftershave, in the days before he stopped bothering. Later it was more of a flaying than grooming. There might be particles of their skin there, he might find a long blond hair and know it was not his. They were things that needed to be forgotten about, for starters.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Evie Wyld grew up in Australia and now lives in London. She received an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and was featured as one of Granta’s New Voices in May 2008. In 2009 she won the John Lewellyn Rhys Prize and in 2010 won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers.
Visit the author's website: www.eviewyld.com
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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“Eucalyptus blanketed the room. He had the feeling that the trees were peering in through the windows, that they had uprooted and crept over to take a peek. The leaves of the banana tree on the roof were a gentle tap tap tap let me in” After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is the first novel by prize-winning Australian author, Evie Wyld. A story that spans three generations, it is told from the perspective of Frank, who, in the present day, is fleeing behaviour he is ashamed of; and of Leon, decades earlier, forced to follow in his father’s footsteps. Frank arrives at Mulaburry, determined that life in his grandparents’ hut in the cane-fields will help him forget Lucy, the woman he mistreated. “The clearing was smaller than he remembered, like the cane had slunk closer to the pale wooden box hut. The banana tree stooped low over a corrugated roof”. Having watched the broken remains of his father, once a master baker, return from the Korean War, Leon finds himself plucked from his own baking career to land in the jungles of Vietnam. Wyld alternates the narratives so that the significant events of each man’s life are gradually revealed, and the reader learns how one man’s history impacts on that of the other. There are common elements to each narrative, echoes that draw the stories together: the wedding-cake figurines, the baker’s fare, the cane-fields hut. Wyld’s characters are real and flawed, characters for whom the reader can readily hope, be disappointed in and exult in minor triumphs. Their moods are deftly evoked: “With effort he stood up, ignored the squealed noises of the teacher, the weird electric sound of laughter, saw only that Amy Blackwell’s blue eyes watched him as he walked out of the classroom, away from the school, heavy enough that he might sink into the ground and suffocate, or else fall on the pavement and shatter into splinters” Wyld touches on some topical and age-old issues: domestic violence; child abduction; the devastating effect of war on the combatants’ psyche; the lack of support for Vietnam Veterans; racial discrimination. Wyld has a talent for descriptive prose and conveys her settings with consummate ease: the humidity of the Vietnamese jungle, the sounds of the Queensland cane-field, the langour of a Sydney Christmas, all are vividly heard, seen and felt. A stunning debut.
Frank has returned to his childhood playground, a beach cottage near Queensland, to sort out his life after a devastating breakup, a relationship that inevitably ended when he became physically violent with his girlfriend. He loathes what he did, and runs to hide in a place that he thinks will comfort him. Once there, memories begin to eat at him, becoming so real that he turns his head and alerts to their arrival. He can't relate to his new violent streak, and tries to analyze what has happened since his mother's death that turned him. Violence would have been more appropriate, more expected, from his father or even his grandfather, both veterans of brutal warfare in Asia. As the novel continues, the narration explores the experiences of both of those men in war and at home. It's oversimplified to say that war changed them, and Wyld doesn't take us down that well-worn path. Rather, what makes this story complex is how it changed everyone else. Wives and girlfriends alternate between comforters and enemies, their every action subject to the random and unpredictable moods of their men. " Some fellas, they make the women lonely. Maybe it doesn't apply to you, mate, but maybe that's why you're here" Frank sorts through his memories while being befriended by a small girl and her pet carrot. A missing teenager and a grieving couple complicate his life while his coworkers rail against the Aboriginal natives that reside in the community. All the while his memories and fears creep up on him though he tries to ignore them. At one point, he makes a conscious decision to rid himself of tangible items to remove the memories that go with them: "Makes things easier having less stuff. See, if I keep them I've got to find a place to put them in - probably in a box or something so they don't get broken.And when you start to get older that sort of thing gets to be more of a problem." This novel focuses on the intimate details of these men and their lives in a setting of urbanization and change. Wyld describes subtle gestures and inner thoughts flawlessly, and invents these entirely new flawed characters like none I've read before. Her writing style reminds me of Tim Winton (my favorite author), with its focus on the Australian bush and seaside with their colors and plants and weather. An unexpected sweetness is found mixed in with the brutality of war. A really enjoyable story that makes me eager for her next book.
I really have no idea what the overall point of this book was, I did not enjoy it in the least bit.