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