Australia's Family Ties

THE TAX INSPECTOR

by Peter Carey

Knopf; 279 pages; $21

Few fictional families in recent memory seem more unhappy than the Catchprices, who own a General Motors dealership on the outskirts of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Gran Catchprice, the matriarch of this ragged clan, is approaching her 86th birthday and toys with the idea of blowing Catchprice Motors to smithereens; she has a stash of gelignite and knows how to use it. Her daughter Cathy wants to leave the family business and go on the road with Big Mack, her country-and-western band. Son Mort refuses to sell cars and enjoys...