Wild Abandon by Emily Bitto

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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Wild Abandon

Wild Abandon

Emily Bitto

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