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Monday, 6 August 2007

Review: Wet Ink: the magazine of new writing, issue 7, Winter 2007. In Austlit, the mag is said to promote "a generation of emerging writers who are largely uncatered for by existing publications". It's a little lit mag, published in Adelaide. Expect the unexpected.

And that's what Dena Pezet gives us. Dirty pictures runs for three pages and neatly deals with the vexed question of pedophilia. Some photos are found. She is distraught. He admits they're his. Little Jake enters the room.

It's at this point that the story falters. When he sees a photo, "Jake's eyes grow wide like the boys in the photograph. As he recoils from the printed image in his hand, his face goes taut, his mouth tight." I think Pezet gives nine-year-old Jake more maturity, and an ability to fathom adult ways, than really applies at that age.

Up til then, the story was sure and serene. It's got the refinement of an Edwardian poem. Pezet is an assured writer and if this is anything to go by (her bio says she "has had numerous short stories published") we can look forward to great things in future.

Jessica Au's story, Nautilus, likewise gives considerable pleasure. It is a coming-of-age tale in the mode of The Virgin Suicides. As in that movie, the cool dream hunk turns out fat and unhappy when he matures. It's a neat punishment for jilted teenage scribblers: there's no avenue of reply.

Two pages long and framed in the second person singular ('you'), it's about a young man in love with a girl with only one leg, who likes swimming. It's clear he deserves her but she has eyes for another. The tension that could have existed between the brothers is fairly weak; an opportunity for improvement.

Writing in this mode is notoriously difficult as it can tire the reader out. Here, although we do not know who 'you' is for several paragraphs, I felt in safe hands. The language is abrupt and quite tasty, mirroring the best type of Australian demotic. There's a clean feel and no redundant constructions to impede the flow of the narrative.

Other stories in the mag lost me within two paragraphs, as I stumbled along under the weight of sloppy phrasing and extraneous wording. 'Natural' speech has nothing to do with establishing a 'true' Australian aesthetic: either it's clear and forceful or I turn the page.

Luckily, Pezet and Au gave me what I was looking for: promise and current achievement.

On the topic, many Australians will have seen a slim book on the 'new release' shelf with a plug from Christos Tsiolkas. The weekend Spectrum explains how it happened. First-time author Andrew Hutchinson won a "mentorship" with Tsiolkas in 2005 and the older author workshopped the novel (Rohypnol):

As Tsiolkas helped him polish the manuscript, the book became more intense. "He said you need to write from your cock more and it needs to be really strong."

A media monitor by day, Hutchinson did work at a hair salon for some time before enrolling at Box Hill TAFE, in Victoria. Erik Jensen's mention of 'Diamond Creek College' is the sole available result in Google so the reporter got the name of his school wrong.

Whether Tsiolkas is spruiking the book out of vanity or if he does think it's good will need to wait. But I intend to buy the book, described in such words as "a story in which you never pause for breath", "the violence is never contextualised", "I think you can relate to the aggression".

Among Hutchinson's favourite books is Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996). The 1999 adaptation was one of the most intriguing movies I've ever seen. But I've never before heard anyone claim the novel as a favourite. That's original. We'll see next year if this book is, too.

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