Elly Var­renti

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Fine By Michelle Wright Allen & Un­win, 320pp, $29.99

Amid­dle-aged wo­man named Delia has just been evicted for the 14th time. She takes refuge in a dump full of car wrecks and meets a 10year-old boy named Jay who lives on his own in a ute. ‘‘He tells her about his col­lec­tion of rust and tells her he reck­ons that one day the whole ex­ca­va­tor will have turned into crum­bling leaves and will fit into his box. Delia says that ev­ery­thing will fit into a box if you wait long enough.’’

In the 33 finely wrought short sto­ries in her de­but col­lec­tion, Fine, Vic­to­rian Michelle Wright demon­strates im­pres­sive con­trol of the form. Ev­ery story of­fers a pow­er­ful glimpse into a world via the jux­ta­po­si­tion of a char­ac­ter’s in­ner life with their outer cir­cum­stances.

Many are told from the point of view of a child or ado­les­cent, an in­creas­ingly com­mon lit­er­ary de­vice and per­haps a re­flec­tion of the bur­geon­ing pop­u­lar­ity of young adult fic­tion.

A child hides be­neath his grand­par­ents’ kitchen sink. He is eavesdropping on a con­ver­sa­tion about his delin­quent mother and nib­bling on a fam­ily block of choco­late he should wait to share with his mother at her next visit.

‘‘They sit on the pouf … fac­ing each other with their knees touch­ing. Then Mummy puts one end of the row in her mouth and he puts the other end in his, and they let it melt square by square … ’’

Wright’s style is pre­cise, lyrical and un-tricksy, even if oc­ca­sion­ally it can feel a lit­tle too re- strained: as if the hand­brake needs re­leas­ing to give the writ­ing more room to move.

In a story set in the af­ter­math of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, Wright en­dows or­di­nary things with fresh sig­nif­i­cance. ‘‘Near a ho­tel in Hikkaduwa he picks out suit­cases, plas­tic chairs, a pool um­brella like a javelin in the ground.’’

On New Year’s Day a pa­per­boy is up early to do his rounds. ‘‘As he hops on his bike and turns from the drive­way out onto the foot­path, he sees the coloured lights strung up un­der the new neigh­bour’s car­port, still on and look­ing kind of pretty against the quiet blue sky.’’

There are no big shots here. There are peo­ple who want new lives. Trau­ma­tised cou­ples stum­ble amid ru­ined mar­riages. Par­ents grieve lost chil­dren or worry about the ones they have. There is a 12-year-old girl who sets up a street

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