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Tim Winton: That Eye, the Sky

Another what-a-trial-and-tribulation-it-is-to-be-twelve-years-old novel. This one concerns Morton Flack (known to all as Ort). Morton lives with his parents and sister in an out-of-the-way area (his parents wanted to be away from the city to be near the trees). His parents are ex-hippies though his mother, at least, has become a born again Christian (though not a very serious one). His sixteen year old sister, Tegwyn, hates everyone, including herself and her body. (One of Ort’s activities is to spy on everybody and he sees his sister burning her breasts with a cigarette end.) His only friend is Fat Cherry, son of the drunken and abusive Mr. Cherry, owner of the financially failing roadhouse. Indeed, it is Mr. Cherry that causes the accident that leads to the serious injury of Ort’s father, Sam. Sam is in a coma and, when he comes out of it, he is no longer the nice guy hippie mechanic but completely helpless and unwilling or unable to speak.

At this point Henry Warburton enters their lives. It is never quite clear who he is. By his own account, he is an aging former hippie who has had a vision that he has to come and help Sam Flack. Ort thinks he is just a bum (as he saw him sleeping under the bridge) while Tegwyn spends most of the time fighting with him, though there are strong implications that they have a sexual relationship as well. Ort’s mother seems to find him comfortable and she, too, probably has sex with him. He is clearly a petty crook (stealing a car) and, probably, other things. Whoever he is, he moves in and sort of helps around the house.

Winton packs a lot into a small book. The Cherry family leaves and is replaced. Ort’s mother experiments with various religions. Ort goes to high school (where he is tormented). In particular, he struggles through that awkward age when one is still a child but knows that childhood is about to end. And Winton’s telling of Ort’s story is witty but sympathetic, somewhat offbeat but with a feel for both story and character.

Publishing history

First published 1986 by McPhee Gribble