Those familiar with Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine already know of his engaging portrayals of adolescence. His confused yet proud characters provide an endearing reentry into the transitional landscape between childhood and adulthood. Wild Abandon continues in this vein even as it deals with the ramifications that accompany the dissolution of a once harmonious agricultural commune.
Set in the community of Blaen-y-Llyn in South Wales, Wild Abandon is the story of a brother and sister, Albert and Kate, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when their parents’ marriage falls apart. As WWOOFers – that is, volunteers from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Food – begin to avoid the place and the community’s drug-addled resident benefactor flees, the future of Blaen-y-Llyn looks bleak. As they know no other home, the siblings react in an extreme manner: Kate abandons the commune in favor of suburbia, while Albert latches onto end-of-days theories to keep him afloat.
Through its two, well-drawn central characters, Wild Abandon does its best to demonstrate how people deal with entropy and the sadness that arises from any accompanying epiphanies.The author’s relentless shifting third-person narration nearly undoes this, however, by too-often interrupting the novel’s narrative arc and giving an inherently suspenseful tale a stagey artificiality. In the end, the characters’ reactions to authentic moments, like Albert’s panic upon finding his father shaving his iconic beard, redeem the novel while walking us once again through the sublimely awful and awkward realizations of adolescence.
Wild Abandon, Penguin, RRP $29.95 (paperback)