Post Road Magazine #14

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

Set against the stunning backdrop of Western Australia, Dirt Music tells the converging stories of Georgie Jutland and Luther Fox. Georgie is a relative newcomer to the small, rugged fishing town of White Point, a community whose members are oftentimes unruly, secretive, and brutal. Married for three years to a prominent widowed fisherman, Georgie has a distant relationship with her husband, and her relationship with her stepsons is uneasy. She has a tendency to drink too much. She has few friends. She is unable to sleep at night; to pass the time, she surfs the Web and swims at dawn. Fox, too, is up most of the night, making his living as an illegal fisherman. Until the year before, when his family was killed in a car accident, Fox was known as one of the “musos,” or musicians, and spent his time growing melons and playing dirt music—“anything you can play on a verandah or a porch without electricity.” Now, broken and alone, Fox lives “in the present tense,” his life a “project of forgetting.”

Initially aware of each other only as the midnight poacher (or “shamateur”) and the woman who swims by night, occasionally with the dog he leaves on the shore, Georgie and Fox soon meet face-to-face, and their attraction is mutual and consuming, but their relationship short lived. When one early morning Fox returns to shore to find his truck vandalized beyond use or repair and his dog shot dead—not an unexpected punishment for a poacher in White Point—he realizes that he has no choice but to disappear and embarks on a northward journey through a wild and ever-changing landscape, Georgie herself not far behind.

Dirt Music is a compelling story told in an almost distractingly lyrical voice, and the scrub and dirt and sky of Western Australia are so fully realized as to take on an immediacy—visual and sensual—that is difficult to achieve and uncommon to find in literature, a perfect backdrop for the dark inner landscapes of the characters involved, who themselves contain surprising and striking features. Suspenseful, haunting, beautiful, and wise, Dirt Music is a story of journey—through place, through the past, through the heart, and through the mind.

Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop is the author of Fireworks (Knopf). She lives in Savannah, Georgia.

 

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