White River Road by Philip Fitzpatrick, Independently Published, 2018, 274 pages, ISBN: 978-1723947087, US$10.35 (hardcopy) from Amazon, US$1.00 (digital) from Kindle
NOOSA – Seventy-three year old Jack McAllister is sitting brooding in his nondescript unit in a small coastal town when a small black and white dog arrives on his doorstep and refuses to go away.
At the same time a lawyer’s letter arrives telling him that his long lost brother has died and left him an old house in a remote river valley.
Jack takes the dog to investigate and decides to settle in the valley with high hopes of living out his days in pleasant isolation.
The eccentric inhabitants of the valley welcome him into their lives and everything looks good. But as Jack knows, good things seldom last long, especially when it involves land rights and mining.
As he reluctantly becomes involved in the fight to save the valley he begins to learn about the intermeshed secrets of his neighbours.
Slowly and inevitably their secrets become his secrets and their struggle becomes his struggle.
In the process Jack learns that change simply means swapping one set of problems for another and that happiness in isolation in the modern world is an illusion.
While the genesis of the circumstances in which the main characters interact was born of a savage and brutal massacre this is a gentle novel. There is no violence and no sex. Gratuity is unnecessary.
It is an exploration of what happens to simple, everyday lives when unusual circumstances prevail, when things that are supposed to work don’t work and when accepted norms are subverted for personal gain.
It is those simple human things that provide the drama.
This is a story for our time and its source in the clash of people’s values with their behaviour is one that continues to bedevil humanity, whether in the backblocks of Australia or Waigani’s Haus Tambaran.
“Wisdom is the essential ingredient,” essayist James F Berry has observed. “Wisdom combined with a generous portion of neighbourly love, and a sense of community that includes the entire life system.”
Perhaps that’s a theme for Phil Fitzpatrick’s next book. In the meantime this compassionate, elegant novel takes his writing in a slightly different direction as he deals with those complex issues that confront us all in a world having difficulty coming to grips with itself and the meaning of its past.