A feast of bite-sized gems
Elaine Fry surveys some fine collections ahead of the inaugural Australian Short Story Festival
Emerging in the 19th century with the publication of periodicals, the short story evolved from the oral tradition of storytelling and both forms, incidentally, are now celebrated by the inaugural Australian Short Story Festival hosted in Northbridge this weekend.
From Chekhov to Dahl and Tolstoy to Dickens, authors of the highest calibre have used its brevity to concentrate ideas and captivate readers. Here are some new and recent collections worthy of note.
Edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs, Sex & Death (Faber, $30) is an eclectic collection that confronts the reader through stories of the mundane, with the big questions of humanity — that of every individual’s arrival and departure from the world through sex and death. From Robert Drewe’s Dr Pacific to Ali Smith’s Metaphysical, 20 internationally acclaimed authors powerfully portray individual stories of universality. Included are Sarah Hall’s exploration of sexuality from the loss of inhibitions arising from a neurological tumour and Jon McGregor’s Where Hast Thou Been, a young man’s conversations with God in his quest to lose his virginity. All are part of a collection showcasing the vulnerabilities of being human. Julie Koh’s Portable
Curiosities (University of Queensland Press, $19.95) is a refreshingly original, quirky, tongue-in-cheek commentary on the shallow values and absurdities of modern society, from an entwining of oriental and occidental perspective.
Koh’s acute observational skills and persuasive use of language cleverly parody characters and corporations in 12 delightful short stories that indulge her keen wit and sense of fun. From lethal ice-creams to fantastic breasts these perceptive gems accept with resignation the absurdity of life as we have made it. Michelle Cahill’s Letter to
Pessoa (Giramondo Publishing, $24.95) is an exquisitely moving debut collection of short stories, ascending the lyrical heights expected from such a gifted poet. It is impossible not to luxuriate in the musicality of her narratives, each a virtuoso rendition of vastly different worlds.
From letters to Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf and J. M. Coetzee, experiences of injustice, inhumanity and suffering, to a cat’s escape from brutal conflict in Kenya, the breadth and depth of the scope of Cahill’s stories are demonstrated throughout.
Albany resident Mark Mehrer indulges his irrepressible sense of humour in On The Fence ( Mark Mehrer, $25.50), a fun collection of short stories, reminiscences and poems set in the UK and Australia. Each is an amusing
These perceptive gems accept with resignation the absurdity of life as we have made it.
gem with twists and surprises.
Mehrer’s likeable style has broad appeal and makes On the Fence perfect for whenever a spare moment presents itself, though definitely enjoyable enough to read in one sitting.
Highly original and complex, Nicholas John Turner’s debut collection Hang Him When He is Not There (Savage Motif, $30) is elusively intriguing. Each very different to the other in content but cohesive intellectually in its emotional connection with the reader, Turner’s stories explore the nature of relationships, ask questions that are intellectually provocative and share his curiosity over a wide range of subjects from voting in elections to sick bags in planes. To quote one of his characters “Allow them to open this door and find me”. A fascinating mind to be discovered within these pages. Lastly, there is Mike Ladd’s Invisible Mending (Wakefield Press $22.95), a collection of short stories, memoirs, poetry and essays reflecting his range of international experiences. From his own life to his acute observations of those belonging to others, Ladd takes the reader from an intimate moment in a State forest in Murrumbidgee to a dog in the dockyards of Valparaiso. His stories about his time living in Malaysia and Borneo convey the atmosphere of the tropics and an exceptional understanding of local life and aspirations. It is a very readable and appealing collection.
Julie Koh has a keen wit and sense of fun.