In simplest terms, Lightning, the debut novel of Felicity Volk, is the story of two quietly desperate people thrown together by chance, each bearing wounds of a personal tragedy, the sort that remain ever fresh. The story evolves into an on-the-road tale where the destination is vague for both Ahmed, an illegal Pakistani refugee, and Persia, a pathologist and chronic loner. What they are seeking is a place to rest, or is it a place to end? Early on, we briefly meet a voluptuous and ebullient Aborigine, Salome, who befriended Persia when both were pathology students, and who splits the world into two groups: the hanger-onners and the letter-goers. She soon divines and defines the key element of Persia's persona - the quintessential letter-goer: through Salome we learn that Persia has yet to overcome her resistance to lasting attachments. On such a voyage, randomness is the norm. Along the way the couple encounter several characters who provide brilliant cameos: a hefty Italian widow who runs a campground in the middle of nowhere and carries on soliloquies with her late husband. There is a truckie, wrangling a Kenworth with an "Alice in Wonderland" carnival ride as his cargo, who garrulously narrates the adolescent wooing of his wife years ago, then becomes gently poetic as the loneliness of the road at the twilight hour approaches. Ms. Volk is a fresh literary voice whose writing has the power to clarify and focus our lives through her characters. Her gift is to use language to create memorable metaphors, startling in their originality. One example of many - Persia, her heroine, plants a daphne bush by the entry of a lover's dwelling so comings and goings in spring are richly perfumed. After they split, she returns surreptitiously at night to water the bush and one evening finds it ripped out: "the hollow it occupied gaped like Munch's scream." The book is replete with the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we invent to try to make sense of our lives, especially those parts that haven't worked out so well. Stories told with hurt, compassion, anger, poignancy and wit. It may seem petty to seek a moral in a story so multi-layered and filled with insights into the human experience, but I think there is one. When bearing the unhealed wound of a personal tragedy, the way - perhaps the only way - to stanch the bleeding is to discern when tragedy is borne by someone else, and then find a way to alleviate that suffering. Heal another, heal oneself. Lightning is a remarkable achievement. Felicity Volk is presently Advisor to the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in the Australian foreign service. As befits a career diplomat, she has an extraordinary command of language, an intuitive proclivity for metaphor and a keen talent for rendering nuance and subtlety. The reader should be prepared to pay attention, and will be well rewarded for it.