Wild Abandon

Emily Bitto

 
Wild Abandon
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Wild Abandon

Emily Bitto

In the fall of 2011, a heartbroken young man flees Australia for the USA. Landing in the excessive, uncanny-familiar glamour and plenitude of New York City, Will makes a vow to say yes to everything that comes his way. By fate or random chance, Will’s journey takes him deep into the American heartland where he meets Wayne Gage, a fast-living, troubled Vietnam veteran, would-be spirit guide and collector of exotic animals. These two men in crisis form an unlikely friendship, but Will has no idea just how close to the edge Wayne truly is.


Wild Abandon is a headlong tumble through the falling world of end-days capitalism, a haunting, hyperreal snapshot of our own strange times. We read with increasing horror and denial as we approach the cataclysmic conclusion of Will’s American odyssey, dreading what is galloping towards us, but utterly unable to look away.

This lyrical and devastating new novel from the Stella Prize-winning author of The Strays offers us startling and profound visions of the world and our place in it.

Review

It is a tale as old as travel fiction itself: young, immature man-child is heartbroken and unwilling to examine his deeply troubling feelings or reflect on his contribution to the heartbreaking situation. Instead, he flees in a fit of impulsiveness, under the misguided delusion that in running away, a divine hand will guide him to where he is meant to be. In this place, he will rediscover himself anew.

Wild Abandon – the much-anticipated new novel from Stella Prize-winner Emily Bitto – shines a crisp and excoriating light on the great American road-trip novel. Will, our protagonist, invariably sets out in search of self, and in choosing to say yes to everything on this voyage of self-discovery, grants himself permission to succumb to the blissful escape of hedonism – food, alcohol, sex and drugs. Predictably, this creates more problems from which to flee. Almost broke, with 90 days left on his visa and nowhere to stay, Will finds himself in Littleproud, Ohio. Enter Wayne Gage, Vietnam veteran, amateur shaman and collector of exotic animals. Think: lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Their shared inability to examine or admit to a lack of emotional maturity bonds this unlikely pair, and if I thought the first half of this exquisitely written novel was a wild ride, boy was I in for an even greater surprise in the second. Bitto has again produced an exceptional novel. Wild Abandon is an unflinching exploration of toxic masculinity, mental health, the aftermath of war and heartbreak, and the astonishing human arrogance of attempted dominion over the lives of majestic, wild animals. It is – to use Bitto’s own words – a novel that lays bare for inspection ‘the sure and terrible ruin of all things at the hand of man’.


Tye Cattanach is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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