After the Fire, a Still Small Voice: A Novel
3.5 out of 5: In Evie Wyld’s debut novel, Frank Collard, often consumed with fits of uncontrollable rage, flees from a broken relationship to a remote cabin on an isolated stretch of coast in Queensland, Australia. The cabin, a lonely place of inherited anguish, is the same one his grandparents inhabited after fleeing their own inner demons years before. In a parallel story line, Leon is forced to take responsibility for the family bakery in Sydney when his father returns from the Korean War unable to cope with the business. In time, Leon is drafted for the Vietnam War and forced to endure the horrors from which his father never recovered. Eventually, Frank’s and Leon’s stories come together, resonating with their shared themes of trauma and the succeeding attempts to heal.
After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is a quiet character study of those on the fringes of society, those struggling to replace pain with a livable kind of contentment. This human drama plays out in the richly described landscape of the Australian coast. It’s a place at once welcoming and threatening, filled with its own secret pleasures and ominous mysteries. In addition to the setting, Wyld takes time to craft realistic layers of complexity in her characters. In one scene, Frank and his neighbor have a meandering conversation over several beers and many hours while the late afternoon sky slowly darkens into night. It’s an evocative and acutely realistic scene, but when combined with similar scenes, the book exhibits a lethargy that becomes sluggish in places.
Wyld exercises admirable restraint throughout and refuses to resolve the novel in expected or conventional ways. The lack of closure is beautiful and appropriately tormented but also frustrating, particularly given the novel’s overall aimlessness. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is a masterful portrayal of human resilience but suffers from an occasional lack of momentum and direction.