Excerpt from What Harry Saw by Thomas Moran, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Harry Saw

by Thomas Moran

What Harry Saw
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2002, 320 pages
    Dec 2003, 320 pages

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Someone like Lucy, who gave those gifts to me.

Beyond all that, I've the strongest intimation that not having had a single glimpse of this bloody world would give you the rarest sort of innocence and a wonderful state of grace, for all your life.

Proof? Well, it's pretty bloody funny, isn't it, how many of us with perfect vision would give almost anything never to have seen some of the stuff we've seen. It's hilarious how we go on and on trying any anodyne--from drink and drugs to the Dalai Lama--that might exile certain memories to an area of permanent darkness. If you know anyone at all who wouldn't love to erase a few bits of his life, who doesn't dearly wish certain scenes had never been played, your circle of acquaintances must include a saint.

My personal shortlist for total oblivion? Easy enough. Besides my heartless reaction to one blind infant, there are about three hundred days of my dad's final year of life. Lucy's eyes flashing cold and hard as a diamond for an instant when she told me she was pregnant. A beautiful old violin that never should have been lifted from its case. And a young girl's fall. Falling in a way that never looked like a fall, holding a dancer's line with her body even as a fucking dry-rotted fence slat suddenly snapped under her slight weight high on South Head. Even as she plunged down that sheer cliff, combers hard as the hands of God rising up to crush her.

My name's Harry, by the bye. I'm just on the wrong side of forty now. I've lived in just one place since I was born, which I don't regret though it seems to be a negative distinction in my generation.

Where, exactly? Down under. The Antipodes, the end of the earth--which suits me, because I reckon being so far from anywhere is the chief reason Australia's remained as pleasant and lovely as it has. When we call the place Oz, and we frequently do, it isn't entirely a joke.

My dad lived all his life as well in this same ordinary brick house in a western suburb of central Sydney called Ashfield. His dad had bought the place when he returned from the Great War minus a proper digestive system (thanks to some serious dysentery) and an eye gouged out entire by a Turk grenade fragment.

Dad's own war souvenir was a hole in his left cheek. Nothing really disgusting but still a hole about the size of a bottle cap. You could see a bit of gum and false teeth through it. He was fine eating anything solid, so long as he remembered to take small bites and chew carefully on the right side of his mouth. But liquids were a problem. He had to drink his beer through a straw, which was the worst of it as far as he was concerned.

He acquired that little decoration in a truly pestilential place: the Kokoda Track, New Guinea, 1942. The Japs were battling their way up over the Owen Stanley Range to take Port Moresby. From there it would have been a hop to Queensland, and not a lot to prevent them from raging through Australia like the rabid dogs they'd shown themselves to be in China, Malaya, Hong Kong and everywhere else they'd come calling.

So the Aussie troops were shipped back from the Western Desert to stop the Short Ones on that lone bloody trail over those formidable mountains. What Dad stopped was a pointy little bullet from a Nambu light machine gun that put a cute dimple in his right cheek going in, and made a ragged wreck of the other, coming out sideways with most of his teeth in tow and blowing away so much tissue the field surgeons couldn't close the hole. They just debrided the rough edges 'til they got it fairly smooth, and stretched the skin to make it a bit smaller. Back home, they offered reconstructive grafts to seal up the thing, but Dad said no, he'd enough of army hospitals--a Nambu bullet from the same burst had smashed his hip and kept him in one for a year. And though he would never admit it, to him that hole was what he had instead of a medal. Something to be proud of, something that meant a great deal to all Aussies in those days, though no one cares anymore.

from What Harry Saw: A Novel by Thomas Moran, Copyright © September 2002, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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