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The Great Inland Sea Hardcover – May 10, 2005
From Publishers Weekly
The twisted relationship between a jockey and the horse jumper who becomes the object of his obsession frames Francis's dark, brooding debut, which traces the path of the would-be lovers as they pursue careers in 1950s East Coast horse culture. Both are young Aussie emigrés escaping family demons. Narrator Day has fled a New South Wales childhood marked by his father's erratic responses to his mother's deteriorating mental health. The beautiful, damaged Callie is an incest victim who dreams of becoming America's first professional female jockey. Day and Callie both begin to have success, but get caught using illegal tactics to prepare a horse for competition. Their relationship is just as troubled; despite an inarticulate attraction, Day and the aloof, unpredictable Callie have trouble consummating their affair, and Day's corrosive jealousy of Callie's other suitors leads to separation. A charged trip together back to Australia closes the novel. Francis's jittery, cinematic narrative jumps episodically between places and times, but he effectively uses macabre imagery to capture the essence of the flawed, ambiguous relationship, and makes excellent contrasts between the Australian and American settings. (Now a Los Angeles lawyer, Francis grew up in Australian horse country.) The equestrian material is solid, if underdeveloped. Francis's mix of vivid imagery and fluid emotion shows real promise. Agent, Nicole Aragi. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* The place where memory meets reality, the "inland sea," forms the powerful metaphor that drives this elegant first novel by Australian author Francis. Twelve-year-old Day flees his family's dusty outback farm in New South Wales after watching his mother die at his father's hand. Eventually finding his way aboard a ship to America, Day starts his new life as a racehorse caretaker and falls in love with scrappy Callie, who dreams of becoming the first woman jockey. When his father is felled by a stroke, Day drags Callie with him back to Australia, where obligation forces him to care for a man he passionately hates. His father's helplessness and an unexpected visitor force Day to question his preconceptions about what really occurred between his parents, and the veracity of Callie's love. The author's evocative images of Australia--the harsh yet compelling landscape, the searing heat, the inescapable dust, the ever-present insects--and his spare, elegiac style set this novel apart from most coming-of-age stories, as Day's innocence is refreshed with maturity and a sense of hope. Jennifer Baker
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Once I located it again, I ordered this book from Amazon and it came quickly. I found it to be a good read. The author brings every page to life. It is a simple story with complicated characters. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys lessons taught by living.
He left the family farm located near Maude, New South Wales, when he was twelve years-old. His father, Darwin, and his deceased mother, Emily, provided an emotional environment too dysfunctional for any child to thrive. Combined with the harsh physical climate, it's a wonder Day survived. He took-off after his mother's mysterious death, with just a pony to his name. Selling the animal in the nearest town, he made his way toward Melbourne, and found a job as a jockey along the way. He worked for the Delauney's at Sutton Grange for six years, breaking, exercising and caring for young thoroughbreds. Then, in 1953, he escorted a horse named Unusual to America.
On Maryland's eastern shore, Day meets Callie, a determined young woman, with a hard shell around her heart. She is set on becoming the first woman jockey...and a successful one at that! Day pours all his stored-up loneliness and intense yearning for love into his feelings for her. Emotionally scarred by a brutal childhood, Callie is not capable of reciprocating his love with much more than occasional affection, rejection and abuse. When thwarted, Day's feelings become obsessive. Again, his most critical needs, his overwhelming thirst for love, are met with a harsh, barren landscape. Haunted by his past in Australia, he returns to his father's farm and his mother's grave, to face his ghosts.
There he learns of his mother's girlhood in Vienna where she was an opera singer, and of a mysterious Argentinean man, Dickie Del Mar, who came to the farm once for an extended stay. Other than his mother, Del Mar was the only person Day remembers as showing him affection and paying him attention. Callie and Day remain in touch - usually by letter or telephone, the contact always instigated by him. Then she writes with an invitation. She asks him to travel to Mexico, to a horse show in Puebla. And so he leaves Australia for a second time, and initiates a scenario which puts the past and present on collision course.
The troubling story of Day's childhood, and the lives of his mother and father are darkly gothic in nature. A constant air of suspense permeates the narrative and Mr. Francis is unusually good at building tension and sustaining it. The prose is sparse but lyrical and the descriptions, especially of the Australian Outback, excite the senses and bring the landscape to life in the mind's eye. I am fascinated by the author's imagery of the sea, swimming and potential death by drowning - especially in the context of a desert environment.
"The Great Inland Sea" is a compelling, thought-provoking novel, and also a tautly written mystery. I eagerly await the author's next book and highly recommend this one.
Day's Australia is as palpable as his yearning for connection, as isolated as his loneliness, "the views, the shapes of the trees and the angular cattle, the smell of the clothes dried hard in the sun." Day's father, Darwin, is a man of few words and cold comfort, a man who eventually ties his wife to her bed at night to keep her from wandering in her mental confusion. When Emily dies, Darwin wraps her in a rough sack, digs a grave and tosses her body in without a coffin, inscribing only her first name on the stone, "Emily-1947".
Throughout his wandering from Australia to America and back, Day searches for bits of the past, the smells and colors of his youth, images of his mother sewing, digging in her garden, heavy with pregnancy. He remembers the man who came to visit the young bride and new mother. Dickie DelMar, an Argentinean horseman, takes the place of Darwin in Emily's affections. Questions weigh upon Day, no matter where he is, all that he wants to ask Darwin about Emily, so little kindness between father and son that they barely speak, "I've carried him with me like a stone in my shoe."
Then there is the enigmatic, unreachable Callie, who has stolen Day's heart without uttering a word, his soul mate, he thinks, although her cruel distance remains implacable, if finally explicable. On the wet sand of the Delaware shore, Callie rides her horse hard, out into the ocean, as Day watches through fog-shrouded binoculars. The horse won't turn back, keeps swimming out to sea, but Callie returns to shore. Later, when the dead horse washes up on the beach, Callie says, "He wasn't going to be an important horse." Then walks away.
From the first page the reader is assaulted with stunning images, the language perfectly phrased, forming pictures in the mind's eye: "her sun-scorched arms like long gloves pulled up to her shoulders." There is a reckoning to be had in this sullen land of hard men and a woman too fragile to exist in their world, and a son who has known so little of love, that he chooses a partner as broken as himself, hoping the pieces will fit together. Until he unravels his conflicted feelings, Day is a prisoner of memory. But in the land of his childhood there are more answers than he ever dreamed. Luan Gaines/2005.