A feast of bite-sized gems

Elaine Fry sur­veys some fine col­lec­tions ahead of the in­au­gu­ral Aus­tralian Short Story Fes­ti­val

The West Australian - - BOOKS -

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.

Picture: Hugh Ste­wart

Julie Koh has a keen wit and sense of fun.

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