Childhood friendships are overwhelmingly shrouded in innocence and naivety, and so beautifully encapsulate mountains of idealism and a sense of purpose. Heartbreakingly, childhood can also be a time of indisputable tragedy and trauma. When childhood friends share such lethal blows, the murkily silted aftermath frequently pervades the subsequent years of these childrens’ lives. And then the lives of the ghostily haunted adults they become.
Such trident truths are poignantly, sombrely and gut-wrenchingly described (whilst the happy events are exquisitely and elegantly described) in soaring Australian author, Matthew Ryan Davies’, latest stellar novel, The Broken Wave.
Fluctuating effortlessly between 1992 and 2018, the novel is set primarily in Queenscliff, a small coastal town on the Bellarine Peninsula in southern Victoria, Australia.
In 1992, in the headily and breathtakingly gorgeous town of Queenscliff (think vast expanses of alluring, turquoise and sparkling ocean, and fine sand that softly crunches underfoot), when summers felt like they would last forever, and the air was humming with endless possibilities, twelve year old best friends Drew Iverson and Tom Howell found life to be a frenetic whirlwind of adventure, new experiences and giddy happiness. Until a tragedy that neither saw coming (or did they?) and the trajectory of the best mates lives became shattered and broken in an instant.
Drew had arrived in Queenscliff at the beginning of the school year from the snow-covered environs of Minnesota with his heavily pregnant and optimistic Mom, Cathy, and domineering step-father, Mark. Mark, a US soldier who served in the Gulf War, had been sent to Queenscliff to work with the Australian army on the nearby Swan Island. As Drew reflected to himself, when he first saw the island as a child, that it had an “almost menacing presence. I couldn’t imagine what went on there, but it was bound to be something important and covert”.
Mark flagrantly attempted to instill great fear, in the highly impressionable and inwardly fragile Drew, about the stark dangers of Australia when they first arrived in Queenscliff. Mark tried to alarm Drew by telling him that “Australia has the most dangerous sharks in the world…..Deadliest snakes in the world here, too…And watch out for rips. They can pull you right out to sea, just like that (He snapped his fingers)”.
Drew reflected of his mother, when he was twelve and needing reassurance (he had lost his father a year ago), that “I was lucky to have her. But with Mark as the only other person in her life, she was just as lucky to have me”.
Drew found, from the get-go, Tom’s family (parents and brother, Henry) to be quintessential Australians, laidback, easygoing and easy to relate to, and get on with.
In the Australian summer of 2018 in Queenscliff, Tom has had a fatal boating accident (he ran a fishing charter). Drew (now thirty-nine) gets notified of this devastating fact from the snow-laden winter that he is experiencing in Minneapolis in the States. He is now working as a freelance writer, and is married to the workaholic Claire,”the CEO of a non-profit”. They are childless, as Claire was adamant from the beginning that she most definitely didn’t want children.
Drew returns to Queenscliff for Tom’s funeral in the local Catholic church. Familiar faces greet him, all in the all-encompassing throngs of grief. Tom was married to Tia (who works at the local school) who is the mother of their children Adam (in year seven, and angry at the world, and even more so now that his dad his died) and younger daughter, Missy.
During Tom’s funeral, Drew finds that “I’d held on to my tears until that point, but now they came in a flood. I cried for my lost friend, for the husband and father in that casket. But more than that, I was crying for how loyal Tom had been; how he’d proved himself to be the kind of friend you are lucky to get once in a lifetime. How we’d shared a life-changing experience together but could never talk about it”.
Was Tom’s death a terrible accident, or did he take his own life (as some are gloomily suggesting)?
What was the tragic event that Drew and Tom were part of, and how has it gone on to shape their lives and relationships?
What unfinished business lies for Drew in Queenscliff? Will he ever find peace?
Could Cathy ever truly bond with her new baby in Queenscliff, Scarlett?
Will Drew ever become the author he so desperately wants to be (he has had one book published to middling reviews, and has had his second manuscript rejected by his agent)?
Did Tom ever confide in anyone about ‘the incident’? Drew never has.
Why did Drew have to leave Queenscliff so abruptly?
Will Drew forever be tied to Queenscliff and Australia, and will it forever be a major part of his psyche, despite having only lived there a short time?
As Drew remembers of his time living in Australia, “The white sun is my first memory of Australia. It was under those dazzling rays that, at twelve years old, I became who I am. For good and for bad. It was there that I learned the value of true friendship, family and simple pleasures. And where I learned about loss”.
Matthew has written a novel that overflows with wisdom, intelligence and exemplary observations of the human psyche and condition (the good and the bad nuances of the latter).
Themes of friendship, grief, mental illness, Gulf War syndrome/illness and childhood are examined expertly.
Bravo Matthew! You have knocked it out of the ballpark with The Broken Wave. The novel ripped my heart out, but left me feeling hopeful. I loved this book, including the sublime descriptions of an Australian coastal town, Queenscliff, and it’s surrounds, and the Australian nature of it’s inhabitants. I will be lining up to read whatever Matthew writes next!
Your chance to read The Broken Wave
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