cover image Praiseworthy


Alexis Wright. New Directions, $25.95 (672p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3801-4

This freewheeling and heartbreaking masterpiece from Aboriginal Australian author Wright (Carpenteria) brims with the magic of myth and the painful realities of present-day climate change. An “ochre-coloured haze” has descended on the remote town of Praiseworthy, Australia, “claiming ultimate sovereignty of the flatlands” and portending ecological disaster. A man variously known as Widespread, Planet, and Cause Man Steel comes up with a harebrained and quixotic plan for surviving the future. Based on a dream he once had, it involves an “empire” of “super-charged donkeys that were fit for a super-charged climate.” Meanwhile, Widespread’s elder son, Aboriginal Sovereignty, who’s distraught after having been accused of raping the underage girl he’s in love with (she’s only 18 months younger), considers suicide. Widespread’s younger son, Tommyhawk, whom his father calls a “born fascist,” hopes his brother follows through on his plan and thereby avoid a public trial that would upset Tommyhawk’s desire to assimilate into white society. Rounding out the cast is Dance Steel, Widespread’s wife, who’s “like a haven for butterflies or moths” because she speaks “the moths’ frequency, a language of millennia which she had learnt in dreams which were only ever about butterflies and moths.” At once lush and relentless, Wright’s looping tale combines magical realism, absurdism, and maximalism in a rich depiction of contemporary Aboriginal life. This is unforgettable. (Feb.)