Title: That Eye, the Sky
Author: Tim Winton
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 208
Tim Winton is a hugely talented writer (In the Winter Dark, Breath) so it was no surprise to me that I liked this book. It tells the story of an atypical boyhood with sincerity and compassion, rich with regional dialect and attention to detail. Ort Flack is an Australian boy on the cusp of puberty enjoying a free-range childhood and days of freedom and exploration with his best friend, Fat Cherry.
His hippie family is a little loose on boundaries but his mom and dad seem to love him and his sullen older sister, Tegwyn. Then Ort’s dad gets in a car crash and is left in a coma. His mom struggles to take care of both his dad and his senile grandmother and Tegwyn becomes angrier and more distant.
Ort uses his imagination to cope, and starts noticing a mist settling on his family’s house that nobody else seems to see. Then a mentally instable drifter inserts himself in the family dynamic and volunteers to care for Ort’s father, even bathing and dressing him himself. Ort’s mom is so desperate she just seems to go along with this, but is the extra help enough to keep their family together? That Eye, the Sky is told in stream-of-consciousness style from Ort’s fragmented, and sometimes unreliable perspective. The reader feels like they’re there with the heat and the bugs and the cloistered, stifling family dynamic.
Tim Winton manages to make stream-of-consciousness literary prose not seem like a chore at all, but a worthwhile exploration of some heavy themes. I was never quite sure about some of the choices made by the characters, which might be partially because of the narrator’s youth and unreliability. The man who arrives at the Flacks’ house (Henry) is so obviously messed up and sketchy as fuck that I couldn’t understand why Ort’s mom let him in.
It might have been different if he seemed to have any credentials whatsoever, but he was basically like ‘Hi. I want to bathe your husband’ and she was like ‘Okay.’ You could explain this away by saying she was in a terrible situation and would have accepted help from anyone but it was still really weird. I especially enjoyed the richness of Ort’s character and the world he inhabited; I wish there had been more hope for his family or that they had gotten some support from the system to help them deal with their crushing hardships.