Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her books include Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in the outback town of Tennant Creek, and the novel Plains of Promise, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize, the Age Book of the Year Award and the NSW Premier's Award for Fiction, and translated into French as Les Plaines de l'espoir.
This 2007 Miles Franklin award-winning novel is the latest masterpiece from Wright, an indigenous Australian author and land rights activist. In the town of Desperance, in northern Queensland, Australia, the question of land ownership is complicated, and every family stakes a claim. There's Normal Phantom's family, Mozzie Fishman's gang and the white settlers who control the region, but can't quite figure out how to get the native Pricklebush people to assimilate to the white man's ways. The drama unfolds with all the poetry and eclecticism of a Bob Dylan song: a drunken white mayor dismisses a murder case, a lying deaf policeman named Truthful has his way with Aboriginal women, and a brave young activist sabotages the town's mining industry. When the mythical Elias Smith, who appears in Desperance one day after "walking out of the sea," is found murdered, a series of tragedies follows, awakening latent feuds and underlining the injustice of colonialism. Rarely does an author have such control of her words and her story: Wright's prose soars between the mythical and the colloquial. (Apr.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
While most of its characters and events are based in the ragtag fictional northern Queensland town of Desperance, this book is a sprawling, surreal anti-Odyssey in which time and space contract and expand and experience takes place in the Dreamtime, on the sea, and on and under the continent of Australia. Normal Phantom, patriarch of an Aboriginal family residing in Westend Pricklebush, undertakes a harrowing spiritual journey. Seeking to do right by himself, his friends, and his people, Phantom faces one adversity after another. Though compromised and haunted by his relationships with others-among them, his devastatingly erotic ex-wife, the corrupted patriarch of a rival Eastend clan, a traveling Aboriginal holy man, and Will Phantom, the prodigal son who defies his father by acting against the personal and institutional tyranny of the local white officials and the corporate mining interests they serve-Phantom maintains a love for his once-estranged grandson that finally redeems and releases him. Published in Australia in 2006, Wright's award-winning second novel (after Plains of Promise) offers in Phantom one of the most compelling literary protagonists since Odysseus and will surely stand as a masterpiece of modern English-language literature.-J.G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.