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ambushed by VC troops. It is 1969 all over again. In this sequence, we are introduced to one of the more compelling devices in the novel, a mystical quasi deity named Johnny Ever, who teUs David the future as we explore his past. The passage of time and its repercussions are central to many of the episodes in the novel, and Johnny Ever pays visits to many of the characters, in disguises as varied as a suburban next-door neighbor and a voyeuristic dwarf. Part of O'Brien's magic as a writer is his capacity to make war new again, but he has less success with the tired theme of a sad and jaded reunion, the what-might-have-beens, the should-haves. Ultimately, the sequential structure of the novel becomes oppressive as O'Brien seeks to create new bridges from the reunion to seminal moments in the characters' Uves. The final chapter works hard to pull the stories together, but it is too structurally and tonally different from what has been set up in the first three hundred pages. What had been strictly regimented now blurs mto fragments . A realistic work suddenly becomes a postmodern cacophony, with multiple point-of-view shUts within a single paragraph and multiple narratives converging into one. There is a certain release, however. These tortured souls trapped in 1969 are freed of theU stasis, their longings and obsessions. The reunion has done its work; the rigid past yields to an uncertain but liberated future. If this sounds familiar, it is, of course, the same conclusion we come to at the end of The Big Chill. (MP) The Australia Stories by Todd James Pierce MacAdam/Cage, 2003, 225 pp., $20 In 1972 a woman hikes into the Outback and vanishes. An eyewitness sees her descend the Giant Stairway, over 800 steps hewn from the cliff that lead to the valley. Only her hat and scarf are ever found, leading some to speculate that she ditched her proper attire to join a group of Aborigines. She'd been the first female tour guide of the mountains , an expert on the flora, fauna, and history of the land. Now she's a legend in her quiet AustraUan town. When her daughter, Sarah, publishes her journal, the book receives critical acclaim for its progressive feminist views. Sarah spends the rest of her life reading notes left behind by her mother and wishing they'd shared a closer relationship. Sarah's son, Sam Browne, ponders his family legacy and his connection to the country where he spent a year as a teenager. American-born Sam narrates The Australia Stories, a novel of related stories arranged thematically. Sam comes "from a family of strong, expansive women—women who hope for what they don't yet own and have hearts too tender to absorb the loss inevitable in this Ufe." The questions troubling Sam at first appear to be tangential to his own life: Why did his grandmother go "a walking," why did his mother seem to give up on her own happiness after her mother left and why does Australia beckon to him decades later? As an adult, Sam teaches high school English in California, beguiled by the stories of other authors but The Missouri Review · 179 unable to tell or understand his own. At the heart of the novel, Sam returns to AustraUa after his marriage fails. At his Uncle Will's nursery, he finds he's not the only one dealing with grief. WUl's lover, BasU, has recently died, m a passage of muted beauty, they set off together to scatter BasU's ashes in the mountains. It's one of the most moving scenes in the novel, though Pierce deUvers many fine moments. To understand how love can be so easüy lost, Sam searches his grandmother's letters, unpublished journals and his own memories. Confronted by mysteries, Sam faces what Robert Penn Warren called "the awful responsibiUty of Time." Like his mother and grandmother, Sam writes of the Blue Mountains, which reverberate through his Ufe and infiltrate his dreams as a place of wallabies, kookaburras and Aborigine myth. Sam finds himseU humbled by Australia...


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pp. 179-180
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