I’m utterly torn writing this review. My immediate reaction was to try to put this story behind me – I wished I had not ever heard of poor Winstone or his sad childhood. But I finished the book over four weeks ago, and the story is still with me. And I know this is a story that is potentially very real and the way Tanya Moir reveals the story is marvellous. That I even finished the book through its dire episodes, further dire episodes, and the direst episodes that fill the last pages of the book is entirely due to the story telling.
As each turn and twist occurs, the reader is gently entwined in the story. Winstone is a 12 year old Otago boy whose life is less than ideal. His father is angry, often fuelled by anger and rarely reasonable. His older brother is already an unpleasant protégé, and his little sister tiptoes through the violence, at times successfully. Their mother is long gone.
Both Marlene (the sister) and Winstone are immediate classroom outcasts at every school they attend. And there are many. You get the impression that soap, showers, and washing machines are rare treats in this family. These are dirty kids with dirty, yet hopeful lives.
Winstone escapes this life through a fantasy world where he is a brave young cowboy riding through a series of clichéd western films. Moir admits that the western movie was a major driver for this book. Her description of the vistas and adventures of Winstone Blackhat are superb. In his fantasy world, Winstone is a hero, he is in control, he survives.
Winstone’s story is slowly revealed through his real-time adventures – living rough in hunters’ lodges, and stealing food for survival. He has clearly run away and the reasons are revealed slowly. The third component that is interspersed throughout are his fantastical western adventures.
I think we all have dreams of how our lives can be. It makes sense to me that Winstone’s dreams are completely far-fetched and ridiculous… It’s the counterbalance to his wretched real life. As a reader this exquisite balance is the saving grace of what, otherwise, is a really sad story without a perfect happy ending. And it’s the reason I am recommending it. This is a story that you may wish you didn’t know; but it’s a book that you will be glad you read.
The book also supersedes our outsider view of this situation. It shows what a child like this must endure. A child that is is ill-equipped to cope with predatory adults; he doesn’t understand the basic rights and wrongs that responsible parents espouse; he has no roadmap. We view his world from our perspective, because we can do nothing else. Winstone views and behaves in the world the only way he knows how and it’s simply not enough.
This is a terrific book of a terrible tale. Tanya Moir walks a fine line with her story-telling here and when you watch anyone on a tight rope it is an exhilarating experience of fear and surprise.