Why, Old Lady, Why? Reviewed By Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com
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Author: Ray Bird
Publisher: BDA Books
Debut novelist Ray Bird with his Why, Old Lady, Why? brings to his readers reality of daily life and memorable moments concerning folks inhabiting a small Australian coastal fishing town facing a lake known as Old Lady to believable life. He is able to accomplish this feat by employing carefully shaped characters coupled with picturesque rendered details of place, attitudes, customs, and temperaments. In addition, the author vividly incorporates into the novel race and ethnicity issues as exemplified by the villagers racism towards their aboriginal neighbors, as well as their xenophobia or their irrational dislike and fear of people from other countries and cultures.
Woven in the form of a series of interconnected personal tales with a local flavor that move deftly from context to context, Bird focuses on four principal characters, widower, writer and intellectual John Arnold, his mother-in-law Thelma Lamb, Melba Lochie, an Aboriginal, and Brownie, a young hotheaded fisherman who falls in love with an underage teenaged Greek girl, Anna, whose father owns the local restaurant. As a result of their cultural differences, Anna's father is quite enraged concerning her relationship with Brownie and tosses her out of the house leading her into the arms of Thelma who befriends her, takes her into her home and treats her like her own daughter. Not to give away too much of the story, I won't divulge what eventually ensues between Anna and Brownie.
One of the challenges of even the most seasoned novelist is creating vivid and compelling characters. In the case of this novel, Bird needed to capture the idiosyncrasies and mindsets of small town folks without boring the reader. He has pulled this off with much aplomb, even at times entertaining his readers with a bit of humour. His characters are appealing not as a result of their weaknesses but their strengths, not their failures, but their triumphs. And when you think about it, the stories are really about living and dealing with a variety of universal problems and trying to figure out how to go about resolving these issues. In the end, Bird makes us really care about his characters whom we can easily identify with and remember.
As for the stories, they are good, no question, and although the yarn originates in Australia, the residents of this coastal town and their social issues could have easily been placed in Europe, the USA or Canada. Australia certainly does not have a monopoly on ignorance, closed-mindedness, intolerance, impatience, and lack of respect, which are universal and alive and kicking no matter where you live. Melba reminds us of these issues when she beefs that her own daughters were never asked to make their debut at a ball in town, nor were they invited to parties or play tennis at the Club. Sound familiar? However, it should be pointed out that Bird does not neglect to weave into his stories instances of kindness particularly in the case of Thelma who is somewhat of a good Samaritan and is known as “The Good Shepherd.”
Ray Bird grew up in small country villages in New South Wales, Australia and after reading Why, Old Lady, Why? I could easily detect his closeness in time and place to the subject matters exposed in his novel and how they reflect his small town upbringing. In addition and as mentioned in the novel's introduction, we learn that Bird throughout his life, in childhood, in New South Wales schools, and in New South Wales prisons has enjoyed a close contact with aboriginal people and their communities. He has always been a solo operator with a highly developed social conscience, all of which frequently surface among the various tales.