The Australia Stories by Todd James Pierce

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The Australia Stories

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The six tales in The Australia Stories concern the family of Sam Browne, a bemused man who cannot hold on to love. Closely interconnected, they are meditative, sometimes funny, clearly focused although not abundantly descriptive, and attractive more for their tone than their drama. The last story, however, contains an eerie narrative surprise that gathers together the preceding stories like a drawstring.

Browne’s father is American and mother Australian. After they divorce, she returns to Australia. When teenage Browne follows to spend a year with her, he discovers how alien he is in his mother’s homeland. He discovers also that he and his mother, drawn ever more deeply into Australia, are set on divergent paths. In fact, his mother becomes obsessed with her own mother, a legendary Australian author and freethinker. Late in life the grandmother found in herself a fascination with nature and Aboriginal culture. Then one day she mysterious disappeared on a hike. When Browne’s mother tries to replicate that hike years later, she becomes lost and dies of hypothermia. This history of loss and death hang over Browne, and in the following stories he muses on further family losses. The final section recounts the eerie courtship of his second wife. Both divorced, they are exceedingly cautious with one another until they have the same dream about Browne’s grandmother. When they honeymoon in Australia, they learn that the grandmother may not have died after all but lived on in Aboriginal fashion.

Each story ends with a perception about love and belonging. In the end, the book suggests, Browne acquires an understanding about them that is deeper than intellect. Todd James Pierce’s prose style possesses a delicate, lovely suppleness, the stories always are engaging, and although some characters seem fey in their yearning sensitivities, the novel is weirdly heartening.