I fully expect Sign, by Colin Dray, to be made into a quintessential Australian road trip movie in the next few years. I’m thinking Toni Collette as the well-meaning but disturbed Aunt Dettie who takes Sam and his sister Katie from their home on the east coast, on an impromptu long, hot road trip to Perth to be reunited with their estranged father.
Maybe Naomi Watts for the children’s mother, Joanne, who relies on Aunt Dettie to help look after the kids after her husband – Dettie’s brother – leaves them.
And I’m thinking Tony Briggs for Roger – the lovely man from the bank that Joanne starts dating and brings home for dinner to meet the family. The man who so offends Aunt Dettie by his mere existence in the position at the table that her brother used to occupy.
But for Sam, the protagonist who never utters a word during the whole book? I suspect he’ll be played by a new rising child actor star. Viewers and critics alike will applaud this new Australian talent’s ability to express his anguish and helplessness at losing the ability to speak after life-saving cancer surgery.
Sam spends the increasingly disturbing car journey trying to piece together what is actually happening. And ultimately, he must come out of his self-imposed isolation and learn to communicate again in order to keep himself and his sister safe.
This is an incredible, beautifully written novel debut author, Colin Dray. The horror of Sam waking up and being unable to speak, scream in pain or even whistle, is palpable through Dray’s masterful ability to sketch both scenes and feelings:
He could feel the other stitches that were still inside him, the ones that the doctor said would disappear over time. He already had the strange chalky taste of them dissolving at the back of his throat. That, and the taste of blood. And beneath it all, beneath everything else. was a hollow he had never known before. The cold, empty ache of a place where his voice had once been.
The characters are multi-layered and neither good nor evil, often veering from one extreme to another in the space of a few pages. Aunt Dettie spends the entire book desperately trying to make life reflect the stolid, white-bread arrangements she values. At the same time, Sam must choose whether to try to fit back into his old life, or reinvent a completely new, voiceless life for himself.
The whole novel is a slow burn – don’t expect anything fast-paced. But as they head further west, the temperatures rise, the bushfires are closing in and everything starts to unravel… you won’t be able to stop reading.
About the author
Colin Dray grew up in rural NSW, where he fell incurably in love with Shakespearean heroines. He holds a PhD in the Arts and teaches English literature and creative writing from time to time. He now lives in the Illawarra region with two daughters who are the most delightful people he has ever met.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.