Lives mea­sured by vul­ner­a­bil­ity

Las Ve­gas for Ve­gans

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Re­becca Star­ford Re­becca Star­ford

By A. S. Pa­tric Tran­sit Lounge, 223pp, $29.95 By Andy Kis­sane Puncher & Wattmann, 204pp, $24.95

THERE’S some­thing un­set­tling about the cover of A. S. Pa­tric’s sec­ond col­lec­tion of sto­ries. It’s a Denise Scott Brown pho­to­graph of the Las Ve­gas Strip in the 1960s. A man in a black suit stares obliquely to­wards the casino devel­op­ment, the sky a stark and bril­liant blue, the pale val­ley be­yond. In many ways, this im­age is em­blem­atic of Mel­bournebased Pa­tric’s characters in Las Ve­gas for Ve­gans: men and women caught in a trance­like tra­jec­tory to­wards dif­fer­ing an­ni­hi­la­tion.

In Beck­ett & Son, Devon, a young man who is ‘‘ prob­a­bly gay’’, wit­nesses his fa­ther hav­ing a fa­tal heart at­tack, then heads off to work. With iPod ear­phones jammed in his ears, Devon im­merses him­self in Joy Di­vi­sion and Mog­wai, dis­as­so­ci­at­ing him­self from the events of the morn­ing and ev­ery­one around him. Clev­erly, Pa­tric sets up an un­ex­pected twist at the end of the story.

Boys is a strong tale of chil­dren’s friend­ship, set in Ser­bia. Sava and Mi­lan leave Un­cle Ste­fan’s man­sion to play by an abat­toir. ‘‘ They had been best friends for three years and some­times didn’t need to talk for hours. Both felt stronger, braver and brighter sim­ply be­ing in each other’s com­pany.’’ Un­for­tu­nately, the abat­toir su­per­vi­sor finds them loi­ter­ing and pulls a gun. What tran­spires tests the foun­da­tions of the boys’ friend­ship, with Sava point­edly won­der­ing: ‘‘ How could a man be trans­formed into any­thing other than what he al­ready was?’’

Guns N’ Cof­fee is an ab­surd anec­dote about a man draw­ing a gun in a crowded cafe when he’s not served cof­fee quickly enough. ‘‘ It’s a mod­est gun. I’m not a closet Dirty Harry want­ing some­one to make my day. I just want cel­list on the brink of throw­ing away his mu­si­cal ca­reer, a re­cently wid­owed grand­fa­ther strug­gling to tell his daugh­ter about a bur­geon­ing new ro­mance, a sleazy sales­man hav­ing an af­fair with a buxom col­league.

But un­like in Las Ve­gas for Ve­gans, th­ese characters’ cu­ri­ous vul­ner­a­bil­ity is rather be­nign and mostly en­dear­ing.

There’s plenty of nos­tal­gia too. Peo­ple who’ve seen bet­ter days long for their younger selves, keen to re­vive old mem­o­ries and the ide­al­ism of the past.

Old Friends de­tails the im­promptu re­u­nion of three former NIDA stu­dents, now in their 40s. Paul is work­ing in a cafe when he en­coun­ters Ur­sula, and their meet­ing is a cat­a­lyst for me­mory, lost and un­ex­pected ro­mance.

The long­est story is A Mir­ror to the World, in which Damian, an aca­demic and his­tor­i­cal nov­el­ist, em­barks on an af­fair with his sul­try and at­ten­tive younger stu­dent. In­ter­weav­ing this nar­ra­tive are frag­ments of Damien’s new novel, a fron­tier story about a young girl mur­dered by an out­law. But he’s strug­gling with emo­tional au­then­tic­ity in his writ­ing: ‘‘[ W]hen­ever I try to evoke a pure heart, or write an honourable man, or de­pict a faith­ful re­la­tion­ship, I end up cross­ing it all out and start­ing again.’’

Damian, a ca­su­alty of his own self­ag­gran­dis­ing, has plenty of in­ad­e­qua­cies — as a writer and a man — that are slowly re­vealed to him through the course of the story, re­sult­ing in en­ter­tain­ing in­ter­tex­tu­al­ity.

The Swarm is thor­oughly read­able and most of the sto­ries draw you in. Kis­sane is a fine stylist, with a keen eye for de­tail: lines such as ‘‘ the bru­tal cir­cum­fer­ence of a bul­let’’ re­main with you long af­ter fin­ish­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, the small font makes read­ing the col­lec­tion a lit­tle dif­fi­cult. I hope that doesn’t put any­one off. This is a ter­rific ad­di­tion to Aus­tralia’s thriv­ing con­tem­po­rary short fic­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.