All Our Shimmering Skies, by Trent Dalton
Blazing light and dark in WWII Australia
Dear dear BookLoves,
I wrote to you in my mind multiple times over the past year. I hope you may have received even a hint of that connection through the ether.
It was a year of tens of thousands of words for me, read, copyedited and proofread. Mostly outside the realm of the fiction and non-fiction I adore.
I managed to slip in a few other reads, and continued with Wayfarers Book Club. But the few quiet moments available, I mostly chose to spend them away from the written word. Listening to the sounds of nature and the voices of the dear humans around me, as well as the whispers of my heart. Looking out at cedars and blue Jays in the backyard, at bald eagles and the sea on a wee vacation, and every day up at the sky. Feeling exhaustion and anxiety, hope and peace, all morph and move through, and evolve and return.
Then one day last fall, out of the blue, a book I had put on hold at the library was delivered.
The cover, in its blue and orange hues, and its title, All Our Shimmering Skies, beckoned. Neither the blurb nor the author, Trent Dalton, rang a single bell, but the timing felt right so I borrowed it.
I was met by 448 pages of the most exquisite prose and portrayal of humanity and nature, light and shadow imaginable.
Trent Dalton enchanted me with every single word. Somehow he combined World War II, the Australian outback, Shakespeare, Dickinson and Whitman with men as dastardly as brown snakes, walkabouts filled with discovery, tragedy, love and redemption. That took unbelievable talent and craft, dusted with magic.
In another twist of fate, I somehow started to read the e-book about 25% of the way through. My fingers must have accidentally jumped ahead, straight into a deep dark hole where teenaged gravedigger Molly Hook is being forced by her Uncle Aubrey to dig up her mother's bones.
Yes, you read that right.
I didn't know graceful, poetic Molly or drunken, hate-filled Uncle Aubrey, or Molly's father Horace who comes on the scene to sort-of-but-not-quite defend her. I didn't know the Japanese pilot whose perspective we soon switch to, who razes the dry, red, Darwin soil with bombs, or the actress Greta Maze who appears in green dress and takes Aubrey's red truck without a backward glance at Molly.
But it didn't concern me in the slightest. I trusted Dalton implicitly. The way Molly Hook trusted the world and everyone in it, even crocodiles and Japanese fighter pilots who fall from the sky.
When I reached the end of the book, I was so desperate for more of Dalton's storytelling that I went back to the beginning. I RARELY do that. In fact, I don't know if I've EVER done that. But when I did, I realized I had missed the whole beginning of this book! There was more for me to savor!
It didn't matter that I knew what happened later. It was like a beautiful bonus that allowed me to see and appreciate Molly even more deeply.
But I also had to pause and consider what made that possible, what magic had Dalton worked to enamor me so, to make me feel so safe and secure and held in his story?
Ultimately, I think it's because Trent Dalton is a writer who isn't afraid. He's like Molly that way: a heart of stone that's nevertheless pulsing with light. He takes us straight into the darkest side of human nature, unflinchingly. And then he shines a Hollywood spotlight on the power of love. Both extremes are so genuine that neither feels forced or false. The contrast and pendulum swings feel apt, real, right, true.
On The Garret podcast episode, Trent Dalton admits, "There's a power in going as dark as you can because it makes the light shine much brighter."
In that interview, Dalton also explains that he had to consider if and how to embody the perspectives he does in this book, how a certain delicacy is required to offer readers a perspective outside his own personal demographic. But, as a journalist, he had been to the places he depicts and talked to / learned from many Australians, aboriginal and otherwise.
"I just thought, 'Look, write with respect and awe, and I might just get through, and not do it in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons."
All Our Shimmering Skies is a classic quest story, perfectly paced. It's pure poetry. It's filled with grace and tenderness and trust and horror. It's storytelling of the highest that I would gladly read again. And again.
This book is the January pick for Wayfarers Book Club and I invite you to read along with us. Comment here with your thoughts if you do?! I'd love that ever so much.
My sincere intention is to bring you each of the monthly titles, hoping that you and these books make one another's acquaintance, and both benefit in some way.
(Please also know that if you’ve been happy with the silence, you can unsubscribe below. No hard feelings, only gratitude for ever having been here at all.)
A few further tidbits if you'd like to explore more about Trent Dalton and All Our Shimmering Skies:
At the Sydney Writers' Festival event, Dalton shared how this book is a love letter to the continent, a tribute to storytelling, another layer of healing for himself, and an offering of light in the darkness so that a kid in Korea or Russia or the U.S. can see how they might pass through and heal from their childhood experiences too.
Dalton's love and enthusiasm imbue his long form journalism as well.
The event that sets Molly off on her quest, the bombing of Darwin in the Northern Territory during WWII, may be quite unfamiliar to those of us on the other side of the world. The state of the Northern Territory produced a short tribute video on the 75th anniversary, featuring residents and service members, photos and footage.
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