A Long Way from Home

Peter Carey. Knopf, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-52018-4

Carey’s unfortunate latest (after Amnesia) starts out being about a race and ends up being about race, but it’s marred by so many “what’s going on here?” moments and convenient plot-changing contrivances that readers will wonder what story Carey’s trying to tell, and how. In postwar Australia, car salesman Titch Bobs decides to enter the Redex Trial, a grueling endurance car race around Australia, with the goal of winning and using the ensuing celebrity to open his own dealership. His crew: his wife (and driver) Irene, and his neighbor (and navigator), quiz show champion Willie Bachhuber. Carey takes a lot of time setting up his narrative chess pieces, and it’s not long after the race starts (over a third of a way into the novel) that a family tragedy breaks up Titch’s crew and eventually sends one of them on a baffling adventure that unearths a life-changing secret and lays bare the shameful history of indignities perpetrated against Aboriginal people. Carey’s prose is cutting and often quite funny (“On the far shore stood a moustached white man who should have been told, years ago, don’t wear shorts.”), but that alone doesn’t save the overly shaggy story. This won’t go down as one of Carey’s better efforts. (Feb.)