Aviva Tuffield (ed), New Australian Stories, Melbourne, Scribe 2009.
This eclectic anthology of new stories showcases some of our finest short-story writers and proves that the short story is alive and well in Australia. From seasoned practitioners of the form through to rising and emerging stars of the short-story firmament, New Australian Stories caters for all tastes. There’s humour, mystery, drama, and even some delusion and deceit. Whole lives are captured in just a few satisfying pages. Ideal for dipping into and perfect for those seeking inspiration and escape, this collection is designed for your reading pleasure.
Contributors include: Cate Kennedy, Amanda Lohrey, Carmel Bird, Tony Birch, Nicholas Jose, Paddy O’Reilly, Max Barry, Margo Lanagan, Lenny Bartulin, Michael McGirr, Georgia Blain, Chris Womersley, Patrick Cullen and many more.
Perhaps it’s just me, but while agreeing there is plenty of variety I was struck by how many of the stories are concerned with ageing and dying. I do commend this anthology though. Nicholas Jose is in good somewhat comic form on a not quite as adventurous as she would like fictional grandmother. Wayne Macaulay’s “The Farmer’s New Machine” offers a somewhat Gothic solution to an agricultural problem. Isabelle Li looks at the ageing and dying issue from a Chinese Australian perspective in “A Fishbone in the Throat”. Paddy O’Reilly’s “Breaking Up” is admirably concise and takes the title in an unexpected direction. Chris Womersley’s “The Possibility of Water” is very clever.
I could mention many more; there are very few duds.
Scribe is one of Australia’s treasures – an independent publisher. The future of such ventures may be under a cloud in these times, not helped by the Book Supermarket-friendly mooted changes in our publication laws, an issue the founder of Scribe takes up in his blog. It is also mentioned, though with less apprehension, by this reviewer.
If short stories are biopsies, then the writers of New Australian Stories are skilled surgeons. The best short stories can conjure a past and a future out of a segment of present. Lots of the stories in this collection do this well. Highlights for me included Abigail Ulman’s Chagall’s Wife, whose tale of a high-school student angling for the attentions of a teacher easily evokes the nonchalance and unexamined alertness of burgeoning sexuality. It also stands out for its lean, direct prose; most of the other stories have a tendency towards fleshier prose which can sometimes be less effective. Another stand-out was Vivienne Kelly’s The Third Child. In this story, Frances writes yearly letters about her unchanging life to an aunt who lives abroad. Kelly’s restraint is admirable and pays off in an unexpected way; it’s a breathtaking story.
In relation to the talk of eliminating the territorial copyright provisions, there has been some fear that if it were to go ahead, uniquely Australian voices and stories would be lost. I get the feeling that the production of this kind of book will be negatively affected by major changes to the Australian parallel importation laws; I’d guess that the risk to independent Australian presses of putting out works by new (to books) Australian authors put is offset by their domestic sales of big-ticket overseas titles and books by established local heroes. The way the Productivity Commission is going (i.e. arbitrarily hedging their bets), if you love short stories, you should buy books like these and make them bestsellers in their own right.
And that is from the first of some new (to me) literary blogs I found while searching for New Australian Stories. It’s 3000 BOOKS // LET’S TELL MORE STORIES.
Another is Angela Meyer on Crikey Blogs: LiteraryMinded.