cover image The Salt of Broken Tears

The Salt of Broken Tears

Michael Meehan. Arcade Publishing, $24.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-567-7

The vast, sparsely settled wilderness of the Australian outback is the setting and true protagonist of this manifestly heavy-handed and obscure (in both language and theme) debut ""walkabout"" novel, which was published in 1999 to high praise in Australia. A sensual, free-spirited young woman, hardly more than a teenager and offering few clues to her past, stumbles half-naked into the mundane existence of a family farming the margins of the desolate Australian salt flats. Accustomed to being the focus of male attention, the wife is jealous and resentful. Aroused by the young woman's sexuality, the farmer's postpubertal son indulges his voyeuristic obsession, spying on her clandestine late-night trysts with a loutish farmhand. She suddenly vanishes the morning after the boy sees the handyman strike her in anger, and the only clue is a bloody dress neatly laid out across the straw in the stable and a smashed cardboard suitcase spilling her possessions. Convinced she has gone off to join Cabel Singh, a charismatic, nomadic Indian peddler, the boy takes his horse and dog and sets out across the wasteland to find them. Repetitive, tedious, overly detailed descriptions (an exhaustive inventory of the contents of a minor character's car stretches over several pages) of featureless landscape and gratuitous characters mar this convoluted, disjointed narrative as the dispirited odyssey moves back and forth in time. Bright spots are a scattering of strongly crafted musings by the central characters. In the end, however, there is little resolution and virtually no sense of redemption. (May)