Thursday, 6 December 2007

Review: Journeys: Modern Australian Short Stories, Barry Oakley ed., 2007

I included notice of David Malouf's piece in the previous post, but it is not the best here. The title is furthermore confusing as at least two items in the book are non-fiction. One is Robert Adamson's 'On the trail of Ptilorus magnificus', which chronicles early transgressions in Neutral Bay and nearby suburbs, where the poet grew up.

The other is Helen Garner's 'At the Morgue', which gives a glimpse into the world of the mortuary, in this case the one in Melbourne, "half a mile from the leafiest stretch of St Kilda Road, in there behind the National Gallery and the Ballet School and the Arts centre with its silly spire and its theatres and orchestras and choirs".

Garner is always good value and in this case the rule is true. Unexpectedly good is Margo Lanagan's 'Rite of Spring', where a boy (or girl, it's not clear) is given a task that includes reciting names while sitting atop a windswept peak and wrapped in a heavy coat. In the story the dominant figure is the mother, who seems to scold frequently but whose good offices are eagerly sought by the child.

Lanagan seems to be a routinely-published author and after having read this little gem, I shall certainly seek out other work.

In the case of Steve J. Spears' 'What Do I 'Do' with Cancer' it is not clear whether we are in the realm of fiction or non-fiction. Likewise with Ken Haley's excellent 'September 11, 2001'.

In this piece, a wheelchair-bound traveller in the region bounded by the Black Sea and the Aral, meets various characters and forms impressions of very foreign cultures. Being there, at that particular point in time, causes a frisson of remembrance in the reader, but its effect is neither long-lasting nor deep. For Day 157 (4 October): Vanadzor to Dilijan, we get this:

The Saruhanyans may live a long way from the big smoke but they are as clued up as anyone in New York or Sydney. The TV is tuned into Moscow these nights and they glance at it sidelong from the dinner table, as if Frankenstein's monster had taken up residence in the living room. Once their thoughts are translated, I know they await the outbreak of hostilities in Afghanistan any day now. They are quiet Christians, and the invasion of their land by Muslim-Arabs and later Persians - is unforgettable in folk memory.

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