JACK RIVERS AND ME by Paul John Radley (Ticknor & Fields: $14.95, hardcover; $7.95, paperback). This novel creates a generously funny cast of characters residing in a small Australian town called Boomeroo. Adroitly written in rich, colloquial language, the book becomes even more a marvel when you realize that the author was 18 when he wrote it. The story centers on the members of the Delarue family who live above their shop, the Cambridge Launderette. Tony and Nance Delarue, a wonderfully ribald pair, have two children, Connie, a tough-talking worldly girl (her note for the tooth fairy reads, "I want big money"), and 5-year-old Peanut. But the magical element is Jack Rivers, Peanut's imaginary friend, whom everyone regards as real.
Readers may find traces of Dylan Thomas in the rich, cacophonous dialogue, peppered with idiom and slang, and in the sensuous evocation of childhood. As with "A Child's Christmas in Wales," an unusually warm-spirited feeling emerges, and there's a similar energy behind the words. "We're talking about Eden Down Under," Radley says of Boomeroo. But at the center of town is the meeting place, called the Death Seat, created out of a fallen tree too large to be removed. Within these poles, between Eden and death, Radley's characters engage in "the necessary rites of tethered living." Nothing big happens in this novel, but the small events--loss of childhood innocence, a wedding, family scenes--add up to a very fine book.