Linguistically and Conceptually Challenging: Alison-Jane Hunter reviews ‘Wild Gestures’ by Lucy Durneen

Wild Gestures: Stories by Lucy Durneen (MidnightSun Publishing, 2017).

wild-gestures-659x1024Lucy Durneen’s collection of short stories, Wild Gestures, sets out to challenge the reader both linguistically and conceptually. There are loose threads that link the narratives together, mostly surrounding the sense of infinite darkness in her world paradigm. Her themes revolve around lost opportunities and a Hardyesque sense of the inevitability of failure and betrayal. The protagonists are lost and seeking meaning in their lives through actions, relationships and control of the external world and each is doomed to failure.

The opening narrative, Time is a River without Banks, is a tumultuous story of a mother’s attempt to protect her child from all pain and the inevitable loss of life this induces. Excluded from the world, the mother loses all she seeks to cherish, until she finally loses her voice “the mother was reduced to a language of absence”. The gothic elements of the narrative reminded me strongly of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. The horror felt by the mother and her exclusion from reality (literally and figuratively blocking out doors and windows) has that juxtaposition of spiritual hyperbole only found in pure gothic narratives. The lack of control, or the wild gestures of the title, are haunting and reinforce the sense of impending doom present from the outset.

The imagery in the narratives are powerful and constantly reinforced. However, while, the metaphors and imagery work well, the similes often feel a little contrived. In Noli mi tangere, the protagonist considers the nature of love as a young girl. She opens with: “When he asked her to go down to the promenade she thought; so this is what it feels like. Love. It felt less incredible than she had imagined.” This feels honest and has the ambiguous questioning tone of a young girl but the additional sentence: “To be honest, if felt more like the start of Mono, or her period” feels forced – an extension that is unnecessary. The language of gothic is already rich and tending to the repetitious, so extending on an extension undermines the power of the complexity of the language used.

The rather graphic references to sex and sexuality in the narratives also tend to feel rather ugly and simultaneously slightly prudish: we are invited to disapprove as much as to feel the emptiness of the failed intimacy. In The Old Madness and the Sea, we are given the sub chapter opening: “Murray didn’t feel very much to blame, if he was honest. He felt sudden gusts of entitlement to infidelity. He was no more than an aimless moon orbiting within a bigger system that made cheating possible.” His lies compound as he sets out to claim a “veneer of authenticity” to his behaviour. For the reader, the negativity of the paradigm in which a man has such a sense of entitlement creates a sense of bathos: at such times the characters can move from gothic to the absurd. This fundamental nihilism undermines the nobility of the wild gestures themselves, which are essentially life affirming through the imperative to act and to claim rather than to accept and die without having at least tried to change or control the world.

Interestingly, it is the female lead who salvages some meaning from the relationship: one in which the man fails even to learn her name correctly. “I don’t know when we’re going to start being honest with each other, but I thought it might be handy if your wife comes looking for me.” Here, the woman implicitly has taken control of his nihilism and invested it with a purpose which betrays his own implicit cruelty. However, despite her challenge, the underlying nihilism is so ugly that it is hard to perceive strength in her actions or admire her determination to salvage meaning and so, the wild gesture is betrayed at every level.

In the same way that Plath’s The Bell Jar is highly seductive yet ultimately betraying of youth and hope, so too the nihilism coupled with the seductive qualities of the writing, invite destruction of hope and emotional growth through the vicarious experiences of the narratives. Yet in the very same short story, Durneen has a fascinating paragraph that is life-affirming, when she speaks of the Samoan perceptions of facial tattoos: “When Samoans tattoo their faces, he learned, they are recording marks in time…To illustrate yourself in this way could only be a beautiful thing, an art, not a monstrosity.” This critical difference also claims positivity for the wild gestures. They reflect, even if they do not carry, meaning. It is their repetition and our reflection on them that mark us out as very human, with all our frailties exposed yet celebrated.

The penultimate narrative, This is Eden, contains this powerful image: “A long laugh roars through the divorce party and what I am reminded of is a school of sharks…How appropriate this is for animals that have to keep moving or die.” Perhaps this is the key message of this challenging text: that life itself has intrinsic value, however horrendous or betraying the experience. The narrative finishes with the biblical image of the apple, “the juice… bitter and old… that feeling, young and sweet.” For Durneen, this is knowledge – a woman’s birthright through the actions of a mythical first woman. Knowledge is to be claimed: “I think of it now, and I bite and I bite and I bite.”

Is pain our raison d’être as women in the current political and social climate? I hope she’s wrong but until I’m sure, I’ll continue to make my own wild gestures and seek meaning in this crazy world.

-Alison-Jane Hunter

_______________________________________________________________________

Alison-Jane Hunter is an insatiable reader. Her book reviews have been published in the South Australian English Teachers’ Association journal, Opinion, and her theatre reviews, in FringeReview- Adelaide.

Purchase Wild Gestures by Lucy Durneen from MidnightSun Publishing

Hot Stuff: Andy Kissane Launches ‘4W New Writing’ Issue 26

Andy Kissane launced FourW: New Writing Twenty Six, Edited by David Gilbey, FourW Press 2015, at Gleebooks in Sydney on 21 November 2015.

thirsty crow

The Thirsty Crow, a boutique pub in Wagga Wagga that murders thirst, (they obviously have a good writer working on their publicity) has on its dinner menu, the following: Hawaiian Lava pizza. Ultra hot. Quadruple exclamation marks. And the following advice in red ink: “Do not order this pizza. It’s far too hot for you. Do not come back and tell us it is too hot. Do not try and be a hero. Do not eat this, you will not enjoy it.”

Well as I grow habanero chillis, one of the Hawaiian Lava’s ingredients, and as I am a chilli fiend and know how hot they are—I couldn’t resist the challenge laid down by the menu. I wanted to be a hero. And I can faithfully report back to you that this pizza is too hot and I did not enjoy eating it. Though I did eat most of it and the waitress was duly impressed. I told them later that it was too hot and they said it was just meant to be a joke, that people weren’t really meant to order the Hawaiian Lava.

Wagga Wagga is a town, a regional city, renowned for its jokes. There is, for example, the five o’clock wave on the Murrumbidgee, caused by the release of water from the Burrinjuck and Blowering dams, a wave that arrives promptly each day at five o’clock, and if you’re any good you can ride it all the way to Narranderra, one hundred kilometres away. I checked it out while I was walking beside the river and I can faithfully report that it is indeed a whopper and that you could do worse than to catch it, if you ever need to get to Narranderra.

I was, as some of you may know, lucky enough to be a writer in residence at Booranga Writers’ Centre in September this year, where I experienced the generous and marvellous hospitality of the Wagga writing community. Before you come to the conclusion that I spent all my time in The Thirsty Crow, where the beer is great, or the rest of my time surfing the Wagga break, where the waves are huge, let me turn to my anointed task for today, the launching of fourW.

As I understand it, fourW stands for Wagga Wagga Writers Writers and I love the joke that is inherent in the title, I love the repetition. In one of his essays: One Body: Some Notes on Form, the American poet Robert Hass writes: “The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself. I had been taught to believe that the freshness of children lay in their capacity for wonder at the vividness and strangeness of the particular, but what is fresh in them is that they still experience the power of repetition…” The first fact of Volume 26 of fourW— an impressive number and may there be 26 more—is that the magazine includes two forms of writing that are close to my heart—the poem and the short story. In some senses that is where the repetition stops, for my overall reaction to the new writing in this distinctive, idiosyncratic magazine is to be astonished by the vividness, the freshness and the strangeness of the work, and to approach it with a kind of wonder. I can’t possibly manage to convey all that is surprising and arresting about this issue of fourW, so if you’re here and I don’t mention your work, please don’t be offended, there’s a bias in my desire to talk about the discoveries I’ve made, rather than the established writers whose work I have long enjoyed and admired.

Magazines such as fourW are crucial to the development of new writing and new writers and without the early successes that these magazines offer, most people would prematurely stop writing. I certainly would have. The importance of fourW to the Riverina is noted by David Gilbey in his incisive editorial, but one of the things that struck me about issue 26 was the breadth of the catchment area. Sure there are writers from Wagga Wagga and Albury, Melbourne and Sydney, but there’s also work from people who live in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania and internationally, there are writers from Newhaven and Newcastle in the United Kingdom and Phoenixville and Minneapolis in the United States. I am reminded of the American poet, James Wright, who wrote in “The Minneapolis Poem”:

But I could not bear
To allow my poor brother, my body, to die
In Minneapolis.
The old man Walt Whitman, our countryman
Is now in America, our country,
Dead.
But he was not buried in Minneapolis
At least.
And no more may I be
Please God.

I want to be lifted up
By some great white bird unknown to the police,
And soar for a thousand miles and be carefully hidden
Modest and golden as one last corn grain,
Stored with the secrets of the wheat and the mysterious lives
Of the unnamed poor.

Reading the poetry in fourW is like being lifted up by some great white bird and carried aloft to witness Rob Walker’s concern for the railway children beside Darjeeling station, then sliding with Bronwyn Lang under Long Feng bridge in China, before hovering with Les Wicks in Darlinghurst, as the speaker of his poem struggles to deal with the death of her baby boy. “I will live without compartments” she decides at the end of what is a harrowing flight. fourW is not just international in terms of the writers published, but international in terms of both its subject matter and the quality of its art. But, I must admit, I was astonished by the number of writers who live overseas and are in this issue. Can I just check if any of them are here today? … No, good. Then let me just say that I thought the work of Australian writers was more impressive. But I’m not parochial. One international standout for me was Adam Day’s moving poem, “Dead Friesian in Winter” which is carried by its finely tuned observations.

4wTurning again to the Australians, Joan Cahill’s “The Rose Shredder” utilises the native bug, the Riverina rose shredder as a metaphor for male sexual conquest, a leap that I found truly surprising and reminded me of the idea Robert Bly develops in his essay “Looking for Dragon Smoke” of the long floating leap, perhaps from the conscious to the unconscious, that exists in a work of art. Leaps also abound in Julie MacLean’s poem “Prize Collection” where the speaker suggests, “you have pinned spiders/ to my eyes in celebration/ of our lifetime together.” You must read this poem, it’s a beauty.

There are a number of poems that deal with war. There’s Albury poet Phillip Muldoon’s vivid dramatization of the after-effects of the Vietnam war, Maurice Corlett’s moving elegy to his great Uncle Tass who died in the evacuation from Dunkirk, and David Gilbey’s ekphrastic series, “Shrapnel”. This series avoids the common trap of writing about art works, where the poem becomes merely a description of the painting. Instead, Gilbey uses the art works as triggers for his imagination. In “Shrapnel 4” he evokes the difficulty of living with someone who has returned from war: “You didn’t mean to hurt me, but your eyes looked through my face/ to other faces.”

Derek Motion’s “Density” received this year’s fourW prize for poetry. It’s a poem that I think Robert Bly would admire, where the speed of leaping is fast, taking us from a semi-black bra outline under a white shirt, to Anzac dogs, to the ambient potential of a startled wallaby, to a country girl and to the smell of rain passing the gums. It is a poem which embodies its title, an exploration of the density of the mind and Motion demonstrates the ability to associate quickly and move from the present to memories and back again with a control and a rhythm that carries you along. It’s an intriguing poem, where something it seems, happened in the long grass. I gather this long grass occurs in the Riverina. Interesting. Read it. And read the many other fine poems printed in this anthology.

The work is organised alphabetically by author name, though reading fourW I was struck by a number of surprising resonances, as if one contributor was writing back to another. There are many fabulous short stories published here. I was impressed by Sean O’Leary’s “Nowhere”, a tale of police pursuit and revenge set in central Australia and involving both Indigenous and white Australian characters. The evocative cover of fourW with its tyre marks and footprints is suggestive of this story. In what has been a violent week for world citizens, “Nowhere” confronts the interesting problem of how to write violence, not the sort of stylised violence that Quentin Tarantino excels in, but realistic violence that impacts on the lives of people. There’s a long history of writing violence in literature that goes back to Homer’s Iliad. The French philosopher, Simone Veil wrote:

 

‘To define force — it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most liberal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is the spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.’

O’Leary’s story is distinctively Australian, and I was completely engaged by its deft plotting, its realism and by the way it tackles the writing of violence, which as I know from my own work is a difficult issue to deal with, but in the end I’m not sure that O’Leary gets it quite right. What happens serves what Roland Barthes’ calls the interests of the story, but I wondered if this character would actually do this. Or to put it another way, the plot and the characterization didn’t quite mesh for me. In one of the many resonances that the journal throws up, Ron Pretty’s poem, “plans” also tackles this issue in what struck me as a slightly more successful manner, but perhaps this is due to Pretty’s foreshadowing of a violent act that is only contemplated and not yet actualised. Violence is difficult for all of us to understand. It’s good that fourW has the courage to tackle it. Read “Nowhere” and “plans” and make up your own mind.

Nadine Brown’s “Drowning”, a story of a woman married to an evangelical pastor, is a fresh and fascinating study of how people can think one thing and do another. Jane Downing’s “Don’t Write it Down” is a story with considerable charm that deals with how a mother can hope to explain to her thirteen year old son, these lines inscribed in her copy of The Decameron: “To my only true love, my arms will always be open to you. Forever, Hal.” Hal, as her son knows, is not her husband. This story utilises the sophisticated technique of a narrator talking to a narratee. Many of the other writers collected here are also particularly adept at their manipulation of narrative technique. There’s the flashbacks and intercutting of Jarrah Dundler’s “Caravan”, which recounts a dramatic encounter with an Eastern Brown snake. In Beverley Lello’s “Surfacing”, Jay’s childhood experience of almost drowning becomes the central metaphor for a relationship that is moving, human and memorable. Michel Dignand’s “Chain of Events” demonstrates the centrality of power in writing dialogue. This wry, modern take on sexual politics resolves through a twist in the tale that I didn’t see coming.

Maryanne Khan’s “An Inconvenience” a charming, humorous and delightful story was the worthy winner of the fourW prize for fiction. Set in the south of Italy, it’s a portrait of an old Italian woman who is shunted between cousins. I enjoyed the way this story critiqued the myth of the family, while presenting an old woman who survives, it seems to me, because of her ability to live in the moment.

Dorothy Simmons’s story, “Try Me” also features an older single woman, Alice, a school librarian, who while fishing at night is confronted by drunken Year 11 students who call her a witch. In response she summons Macbeth, “by the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes” and Sylvia Plath: “Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.” This is a brilliant story which builds to a surprising twist, a twist which is… well, wonderful is the word that comes to mind.

There is much more in fourW that I don’t have time to detail—it’s a truly International magazine full of surprising, engaging and wonderful work. It’s there for you to read, to ponder, to savour. My congratulations to everyone who performed the hard slog of producing it, or contributing to it. And unlike The Thirsty Crow’s now infamous, uneatable pizza, it’s hot stuff, but not too hot for you. You will, I promise, enjoy Issue 26 of fourW New Writing. It’s my pleasure today to send it out into the world.

 

 – Andy Kissane

———————————————————————————————————

Andy Kissane’s books include his fourth collection of poetry, Radiance (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014), which has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry and a book of short stories, The Swarm. He was the winner of the 2013 Fish International Poetry Prize and is the Coriole National Wine Poet, with six poems featuring on the back label of their cabernet shiraz. He has read his work in Ireland, England, Vienna and many venues in Australia. He teaches creative writing in the community, schools and universities. http://andykissane.com

For information on how to purchase a copy of 4W New Writing visit the Booranga Writers’ Centre website https://www.csu.edu.au/faculty/arts/humss/booranga/home

Looking Forward: B. J. Muirhead Reviews ‘The World to Come’ edited by Patrick West and Om Prakash Dwivedi

 

The World to Come, edited by Patrick West and Om Prakash Dwivedi, Spineless Wonders 2014

The_World_To_ComeBooks in which stories are selected thematically always pique interest—we read with the hope of learning something about that theme, and we judge them not only on the pleasure the stories bring, but also on how effectively they bring us insight into that theme.

In The World to Come, the theme was the phrase which stands as the collections title. In their preface, the editors note that “the present is never no-where: it is always in a place. Where one is impacts when one is. Very deliberately, this collection harvests the voices of writers from all over the world, in fictional reflection on what the world to come looks like from where they are writing, in place and in time”.

One result of this is that the collection contains stories in a variety of genres, from purely literary to science fiction. There is, however, a common pessimistic and depressive tone that runs through most of the stories. Few of the writers present an optimistic future or, when they do, it is the optimism of surviving environmental catastrophe, a theme which holds many of the selected writers in thrall.

For many of the writers, the future conceived as the world to come is barren of humanity, full of despair. Out of several post-apocalyptic stories, John Shulman’s Progress stands out in its inability to present humanity in anything but the worst possible light. A small group of people in the Kalahari Desert have decided, without apparent evidence, that they are the sole human survivors, that it is their task to start humanity over again. But they cannot overcome their past morals, prejudices and training. They spend some time being self-congratulatory at surviving, some at wondering if there are enough of them (five) for their Adam and Eve hopes to be realistic, and a lot of time deciding who among their group is a suitable partner for procreation. One, a Navy Seal, gets drunk and rapes Stephanie, and it all continues falling apart even though there is at least one sign that they are not the last humans: Martin has captured a monkey with a water jug. At the end of the story, only one of the group remains. But…

N!amce squatted on his haunches and watched Stephanie from a nearby outcrop. She was an attractive female, pale and soft. She would die soon. The vultures, hyenas and insects would make quick work of her corpse. As the last human passed into history, the San Bushman did not reflect further. He had another monkey to find to lead him to water.

This story is fascinating for its presentation of ageism, racism and blatant human stupidity, but it also leaves much unsaid that may have led us to find the story more compelling, more revealing of humanity and ourselves as readers. The mere fact that N!amce survives is not enough. Instead I was left with the sense that too much had been left out, most importantly, any sense of humanity beyond a petty concern with who was going to fuck whom.

Stand out stories which are complete within themselves are Tham Chui-Joe’s The breaking of the glass, Tim Richards’ The outer territories, and Sébastien Doubinsky’s The future is wow.

All three of these stories fit into the category of science fiction in a fairly straightforward way. Tham’s story, set in the far future, when people live inside fully enclosed cities (not unlike Diaspar in Arthur Clarke’s The City and the Stars), is a story about a time travelling writer who appears and disappears and whose novels, published in the past, are influencing his future university friend who is studying them. This is a complex, understated story that withstood many readings without revealing all of itself

Tim Richards, on the other hand, gives us a story in which Australia has at least one colony in space which is harshly ruled by the leaders back home. (Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress came to mind here.) There is some lovely, unsubtle humour in this story. Kyle Hampson volunteers to teach Australian Studies at Paul Hogan High on Gorolya in Irwin, the capital of Kidman Provence. Hampson teaches two lessons, in the second of which he introduces the idea of Gorolyan studies because he wanted to learn about the colony and its culture.. Charged with state terrorism, Hampson is taken away, tortured and summarily executed. Fifty-three years later there is a large crowd in Assange Avenue where the first president of the Gorolyan Republic is to make a speech recognising the importance of Hampson’s two class contribution to the creation of the republic. Unfortunately the new president does not remember his name properly, and the town of Irwin is now to be known as Hampton, in his honour.

Doubinsky’s story, in contrast, is a straightforward story of conquest. They, the colonisers, are off to investigate a village, and discover that the planet’s native people have wiped it out, killing everyone: “The Beastmen had taken their kids back, destroying and killing everything in the process”, despite having been “offered” everything—medicine, progress, education. The story ends with the central character determined to “show the bastards. He would show them that democracy and freedom weren’t just empty words.”

Not all of the stories are set in the future. In Jeannette Delamoir’s story 1913: The world to come is made of love, a psychic reflects on the questions she is asked. They are, she says, all about love, but she doesn’t tell anyone what she actually sees, the forthcoming war, death and destruction: “explosions, shrapnel, barbed wire, grotesque technologies delivering pain and fear and dismemberment.” Despite this, she believes “the future is an ocean of love” because “When we die […] The only thing that remains is love: the essential core, the driving force”.

Where other stories in this collection try to create a sense of loss coupled with bewilderment, Delamoir’s story holds it close to us by presenting us with our very human desire to be loved, even if the future contains little but horror against which we must hold our hope and belief in love.

Other, equally powerful stories are John Fulton’s Caretakers, in which a young woman faces some unexpected complications as her father is dying, and Gamil yanaay walaybaa: No going home by Marcus Waters, which tells the tale of one aboriginal man’s journey through several lives, the last of which occurs in the present.

Many other stories attempt the same level of complexity—Fix, by Leone Ross, Ben Brooker’s Awake, to mention two—but they don’t possess the same depth, partly because don’t seem to have been adequately developed, and fail to provide the reader with sufficient context. In Fix, a somewhat confusing story about the world wide web coming alive, this is shown when the author writes “nobody needs condoms any more. Everybody knows: you fuck, you die.” In Awake the issue is sleep: if you sleep, you die. As a reader, I want to know why these things are the case, and being told by a first person narrator that no one knows why just doesn’t seem enough. These stories, along with several others, aim to describe and elucidate a mood, a direction which we hope never will be.

One last aspect of the collection which I would like to mention is about the book itself rather than the stories, and that is the design. Book design is more than the cover of a book, it is the layout of the page, the selection of typeface, margins, and so on. When it comes to designing a page, readability is the all important factor. It is, I admit, a difficult area of book design, but it is one which publishers (and editors, when given the opportunity) need to focus upon.

In The World to Come the chosen type face and layout form solid blocks, providing a density on the page which is difficult to read. The publishers would do well to consider this area more thoroughly and demand more adequate work: good overall book design that creates beautiful pages improves the readability and hence the saleability of their product.

Overall, despite this, The World to Come is a solid collection with a few outstanding stories, and a few less so. As such, it is worth buying for those stories which bear many readings as well as those stories which are so full of despair that they push us to seek different versions of the world.

 – B. J. Muirhead

—————————————————————————————————–

B.J. Muirhead is a writer and photographer living in rural Queensland. He has published online and in print journals, and was included in an anthology of Queensland poetry (1986). He has published art criticism and was photographic reviewer for the Courier-Mail newspaper in the 1980s. His writing and recent exhibitions, Primary Evidence (2011) andFlesh (2014), continue his lifetime interest in the human body and its relation to the inevitability of age and death. He can be found at http://bjmuirhead.wordpress.com   and http://inaforeigntown.wordpress.com.

The World to Come is available from http://shortaustralianstories.com.au/products-page/anthologies-3/the_world_to_come/#more-4073

.

Dipti ad

In the Presence of a Master Writer: Gabrielle Lord Launches ‘My Hearts Are Your Hearts’ by Carmel Bird

My Hearts are Your Hearts by Carmel Bird, Spineless Wonders 2015, was launched by Gabrielle Lord at Berkelou Books, Liechhardt NSW on Saturday 25th July 2015.

my hearts are notTo read these stories is to know that one is in the presence of a master writer, someone who has not only unlocked the word hoard but has polished her craft. Like the soaring trapeze artists who make it look so easy, Carmel’s short stories appear deceptively simple. The rhythm of our language is used to full advantage. The stories are like poems or songs – “She was to live at the Sacred Heart hostel, safe and sound with the nuns, the curfew and the Catholic faith.” (‘The Legacy of Rita Marquand’)

‘My beloved is mine and I am his’ – is a wonderful evocation of two lives. The sweep and the dramas of the two once close friends, short passages of great intimate detail set among quite fast-moving time spans. It is delicious writing – sexy, warm and, although ironic in tone, it is never disdainful of the characters – a writer who understands human weakness and forgives it in advance. A compressed saga.

Deceptive simplicity Carmel’s writing reminds me of Coleridge’s technique of verbal ‘chiaroschuro’ – just mentioning the highlights on substantial object. Beautiful and shocking juxtaposition of ideas and words, “the warm dead child” from ‘Child of the Twilight’ comes to mind. A bold habit of running three adjectives together like a string of beads before a noun.

Her themes are the pulses of life: babies, lost or living, conception, pregnancy birth and termination, love, infidelity, religious faith and its loss, sacred objects, the passing of time, death, the mystery that lies at the heart of things and above all, life itself in all its splendour, misery and terror.

In the story “Your hearts are my hearts’ I felt I was reading about a real scandal and turned eagerly to the story of the stories at the back, hoping to get some clues about who these two naughty people were. The graceful way one writer smoothed over the lack of manners of the other– in the incident of the dish of foil covered chocolate hearts, the incident itself, shone with truth and were the telling details that convinced me that the story was completely true. When I read that little incident had in fact, been observed by the author of the story, I felt somewhat mollified.

There are stories of great beauty and tenderness, stories that ache with loss, such as “waiting for the green man”, which is told in “close-up” to use a movie director’s term. From the exquisite detail of a dew drop hanging from the end of the leathery, purplish leaf of a Canna lily, the story pans back to reveal the rest of the canna lilies growing along the fence in the wild apart of a church rectory garden. Finally, we get to the Rector’s wife, Faith, whose garden this is, and whose life is about to be changed dramatically but not the grief that lies in the depth of her heart. Her grief and her goodness come together in a burst of necessary energy that in a mysterious split second, brings heaven down to earth to save a baby’s life. But not her baby.

Another story, ‘The legacy of Rita Marquand’, has a matter-of-fact voice, that of an art collector talking about painting or rather, the particular painting of a lesser-known Australian morning artist, Rita Marquand and two of her children. This narrator keeps us at a distance from Dymphna and Dolores – interrupting the telling of the story sometimes, to draw attention to a detail that might not, otherwise, be noticed as well as it should be. There is a copy of a painting The Madonna of the Goldfinch, which leads the narrator into a very interesting series of facts about such paintings – and the telling of various legends concerning how the goldfinch got his red head. (I’ve never seen such a goldfinch – all the ones I saw were merely gold and brown)

It is almost forgotten now that a Catholic marrying ‘out of the faith’ was almost damned. The reader will discover too, that the door to Hell has a bell that certain actions activate. And that bell is certainly activated by Dolores. In this story, the incidents and people surrounding two paintings are discovered and their stories unfold.

‘Where the honey meets the air’ begins in the voice of a chatty, somewhat irritatingly verbose narrator – until with a shock, it’s revealed to the reader what all these words were holding at bay – the real story, the crime that even now hasn’t been exposed quite yet… domestic horror that jumps right up at you and bites.

Stories that are zesty, sexy and shocking. These stories demonstrate the graceful ease of an enormously gifted and practised writer, someone who is at the peak of her powers. The stories remind me of the work of a magical actress carrying a one-woman show comprising dozens of different characters, making them all come to life and seem as real as the reader. And yet, there is some strange, glittering atmosphere around the stories, difficult to pin down; a soft glow seems to come from beyond the stories themselves. It might be a bold observation, but my feeling is that this is the soul of the writer, endowing her stories with grace that comes from somewhere else.

– Gabrielle Lord

—————————————————————————————————–

Gabrielle Lord’s first novel Fortress was translated into numerous languages and made into a successful film. Since then she has published another fifteen adult novels with another one, Whipping Boy, also made for television. She has also written a 17 book series Conspiracy 365 for Young Adult readers which has gone all over the world and was made into a successful TV series by Circa Media and Foxtel. It is currently playing on ABC 3. Gabrielle is at present working on another YA trilogy, 48 Hours, coming in 2016. She can be found at  www.gabriellelord.com

My Hearts are Your Hearts is available from http://shortaustralianstories.com.au/products-page/pre-release-offers/pre-release-offer-my-hearts-are-your-hearts/

subscriber01

Mallarme Got it Wrong: Mark Roberts Reviews ‘Captives’ by Angela Meyer

Captives by Angela Meyer. Inkerman and Blunt 2014

captivesSome years ago now I was informed that a number of recent pieces I had written were “micro-fiction/flash fiction”. This was news to me as I was under the impression that I was writing prose poems. Intrigued I started some investigation. What was the difference between a prose poem and microfiction? Where did the boundary lie between micro fiction and the short story? How many degrees of separation was there between a haiku and an epic novel?

So where to start? If you believe Mallarme then the search ends before it begins as he famously stated in a 1891 interview that “In the genre called prose, there are sometimes admirable verses, of all rhythms. But in truth, there is no prose: there is the alphabet and then there is verse”. So there is poetry and prose poetry and then ……words.

But things have moved on since 1891 and when, in 2015, I took to google and typed in “What is the difference between prose poetry and flash fiction” my screen suddenly filled up. After sifting through the references I decided that the best definitions were the simplest – such as:

“the base unit of the prose poem is still the image, whereas flash fiction, is about character and character development”.

http://thebarking.com/2010/11/how-to-tell-prose-poetry-apart-from-flash-fiction/

and

“Prose poems are poems crafted with the traditional sentences and devices of prose writing but still relying heavily on poetic devices such as heightened imagery and precision of language.

Flash fiction are stories crafted with the devices of storytelling such as story arc and tension but compressed into limited language, normally no more than 1000 words.” http://nancystohlman.com/2013/04/28/ask-a-flash-fiction-editor-is-this-flash-fiction-or-a-prose-poem/

Basically a prose poem is a poem without line endings and flash fiction is a short story without the length,.

When we come to the difference between micro/flash fiction and the short story I am on much firmer ground as I have developed my own method of categorisation based on train travel. Many years ago, as I travelled to and from work, I realised I could, for the most, part, use the daily train journey to categorise fiction. If I was travelling, for example, in Sydney, from a middle suburb such as Epping, Lidcombe or Hurstville to the city each day, then I could expect to finish the average novel in a week of toing and froing. A novella should be able to be finished in a single day’s journey to and from work, while a short story should be able to be commenced waiting for the train and completed before I stepped off in the city. To take this to the final level a single micro/flash fiction piece should be able to be completed between stations.

Angela Meyer’s first collection, Captives, allowed me to travel around the Sydney train network testing out my theory – and for the most part it was borne out. While I found one could just squeeze in one of the longer pieces, like ‘Nineteen’, between Waverton and North Sydney, I could easily devour three pieces between Chatswood and North Ryde.

Besides being the perfect train read, however,  Meyer’s microfictions also provided the final evidence that Mallarme got it wrong – beyond poetry and prose poems there is prose and the shortest piece of prose can be just as impressive as the most accomplished epic novel.

Meyer, at her best, can take your breath away. Her prose appears simple at first sight, you feel like you are starting a short story or a novel – then suddenly you are flung around and suddenly find yourself at the end of the piece dazed and surprised. The first piece in the collection, ‘ The day before the wedding’ is an example of this. The piece consists of 5 small paragraphs and slightly less than 120 words – but it is rich in emotion, both real and suggested. Within those 120 words we gradually build up an image of a relationship. This is first suggested in the title, ‘The day before the wedding’, which creates a context for the rest of the piece. Then we have the image of a woman running out onto the marsh disrupting a duck hunt:

“Stop! she called as shots rang out and ducks fell. Stop! to the men and the dogs in the blue dawn.”

There is perhaps a hint of Katherine Mansfield in these two sentences – so much is conveyed in very few words – shots, duck falling, shouting, dogs barking and the dawn sky. The next sentence turns the piece on it’s head as we learn the woman’s fiancé is pointing his gun directly at her.

“Still her love had the gun trained on her, and she stood, and even when he lowered it and his expression revealed play, a joke, she knew she’d seen his true face.”

So much has changed in the space of a few words. We start off with a wedding, the preparations, as implied in the title, then jump to a woman disrupting a hunt only to find out that it is her future husband and his friends who are hunting. By training his gun on his future wife we see a future of possible conflict. The final sentence hints a number of future possibilities – acceptance, rebellion – and we are left to ponder the significance of the final word:

“come in now, she said quietly. You’ll catch your death”

While short pieces like  ‘The day before the wedding’, which open up multiple possibilities in the space of a handful of words, are the highlight of this collection, Myer also shows herself to be at home in longer pieces such as ‘Nineteen’ which, according to my train station analysis, is almost approaching the category of a short story.

The look and feel of the book adds to the overall success of Captives. The book itself is quite small, recalling for me at least City Lights Pocket Poets editions. The collection is grouped into a number of sections and is set off by a series of simple images which I was surprised to read had been adapted from the notebooks and papers of Franz Kafka.

Captives is a stunning first collection and a must read for anyone interested in short fiction / Micro Fiction. It is the sort of book that you will remember long after you have left the train station.

– Mark Roberts

————————————————————————————————–

Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine. He also has a number of manuscripts looking for a publisher.

Captives is available from http://inkermanandblunt.com/home/projects/captives/

.

.

Rochford Street Review relies on donations to cover costs. Any funds left over are used to pay reviewers.

Stitching the Larger Image: Shady Cosgrove Launches ‘The Glove Box and Other Stories’ by Vivienne Plumb

The Glove Box and Other Stories by Viviene Plumb, Spineless Wonders 2014 was launched on Saturday 16 August 2014 at the NSW Writers Centre by Shady Cosgrove. This is what she had to say:

GloveboxI’m honoured to be standing before you all tonight. I remember the first time I  heard of Vivienne Plumb. Alan Wearne, the poet, who works with me at the University of Wollongong, said: ‘I’ve been having these great conversations with  a writer I think you’d like. Her name is Vivienne Plumb. She’s interested in doing  her DCA with us.’ Her CV certainly stacked up but it was when I read her prose  that I knew: ‘Yes, this is someone with a beautiful turn of phrase, someone who  understands how detail stitches the larger image, how words give way to images  which give way to scenes.’ Little did I know then that tonight, many years into  the future, I would be launching The Glove Box and other Stories: a product of her  DCA that I was lucky enough to supervise.

A few of the things I love about The Glove Box and other Stories are: the breadth  of character, the exquisite use of original detail, the clarity of the writing on a  line by line level and the larger satisfaction that emerges when reading the  collection.

In the first story, we have the book’s namesake, ‘The Glove Box’ that gives us a  wonderful portrait of a woman, her appreciation for finding the odd button on  the street, and her complex and beautiful relationships with her mother and  sister. Here, in this story, we get the first glimpse of hitchhiking: as escape, as  not quite against the law, as subversive.

And this idea of hitchhiking as liberation carries through the volume, and indeed,  into the next story, ‘Why My Mother Never Hitchhiked’. This also follows the  theme of mothers and daughters, and how subsequent generations make sense  of their parents’ lives.

We also have your not so typical house intruder (in ‘Sixty Photos’), a straight talking narration about fear and how it’s pushed onto women and girls in public  spaces (via ‘Spooky Gurl’), creepy truck drivers (in ‘Mortdale’), cult communities  (in ‘The Blouse’), working in a hospital (‘Sampler’), and negotiating friendships  through horrific circumstances (‘A High, White Ceiling’). – And please forgive the tangent here but one of the details in this story –  the planes going overhead this inner city flat – still blows me away.  Vivienne is marking time with a sound detail and increasing the story’s  tension at the same time. It’s beautiful and dreadful, and the writing in  this story does justice to its heart breaking themes. – There’s also ‘Floorplan’ that follows a woman writing her doctorate on women  hitchhikers. And ‘Deep and Dangerous Undertow’ that’s quite explicitly about  hitching.

My favourite story in the collection is ‘Efharisto’. It’s actually one of my favourite  stories I’ve ever read. I remember when Vivienne emailed it to me and I was  reading it at my desk, oblivious to emails chiming in my inbox, oblivious to the  lecture I had to give in half an hour. I was completely pulled into the rhythm of  the story and that starts with the very first sentence, which is a fragment: ‘When he said.’ And the story is about fragmentation. It’s about physical fragmentation  and how painful this can be when you’re the mother of an ill child. Right near the  end, the story reads: ‘Is there a roof to the sky? I asked myself that question. I  knew the answer – there is a roof or a lid to everything and that is to ensure that  you only have just that much and no more of any one thing in your life.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to bear it.’

I was like, ‘What can I write in the margins of this?’ I was weeping.

I think this story is powerful because it captures the hard stuff of the human  condition in a way that’s powerful and beautiful at the same time. Literature, eh?

But that’s not to say that this is a dark set of stories. There is darkness – I think  that’s inevitable in any collection of stories that’s looking at risk and freedom –  but there’s also wit, charm and humour, driven by these eccentric characters.  And the characters really do make this volume. After rereading this collection, I  thought: wouldn’t it be quite a dinner if you could invite all these characters  round for a barbie. Wouldn’t that be something else?

In conclusion, thank you Bronwyn for another great publication. Your support  for literature gives me hope. Well done, Vivienne. I’m so proud to have been involved with this collection, in my small way. To feasting with these characters.

I officially launch The Glove Box and other Stories.

– Shady Cosgrove

—————————————————————————————–

Shady Cosgrove is a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong. Her books include What the Ground Can’t Hold (Picador, 2013) and She Played Elvis (Allen and Unwin, 2009), which was shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel Award. Her short fiction and articles have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Overland, Southerly, Antipodes, the Age and and the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Glove Box and other Stories is available from http://shortaustralianstories.com.au/products-page/spineless_wonders_-paperbacks/the-glove-box/

.

Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.