Between the Covers
Brothers & Sisters
Edited by Charlotte Wood
A collection of short stories by Tegan Bennett Daylight, Tony Birch, Robert Drewe, Ashley Hay, Cate Kennedy, Nam Le, Roger McDonald, Paddy O’Reilly, Virginia Peters, Michael Sala, Christos Tsiolkas and Charlotte Wood.
What an enticing idea: stories bound together by the common theme of siblings, something nearly everyone can relate to, and even a tale for ‘only’ children. These wonderfully imaginative stories with their wide-ranging settings reach back into childhood, and you can’t go there without exposing family and cultural dynamics. I had a distinct impression of the different experiences girls and boys had growing up in Australia. One thing is clear – many people experienced their sibling, especially their older brother, as an intimidating and oppressive force.
Nam Le’s powerful story, set around a true event – the brutal Asian gang sword murder in Melbourne – had my hair standing on end. Driven to search the covers for some indication of whether this collection was really fiction or non-fiction, in tiny print alongside the publishing information, I found this: Some of the stories in this collection use real events as their settings, but they are stories, and all the characters and all their actions are works of fiction. I would have liked this boldly on the cover so readers and sellers alike would not be confused. That said, the quality of writing is astounding, each short story a polished gem. “…willing… a suitably serene expression to slide down his cheeks…” – Paleface and the Panther by Robert Drewe. “…pain like this… heals in us like an unset broken bone, the fracture knitted together uncertainly under the surface, something you can never quite trust to bear your weight…” – Beads and Shells and Teeth by Cate Kennedy. “…A fistful of old lust gripped and turned, briefly, inside her…” – The Cricket Palace by Charlotte Wood.
I should have known right away that this was fiction. Who could write with such honesty and revelation about siblings and still have a family that would talk to you? As in real life, all of these stories deal with the fears, rivalries, and jealousies that bind siblings to each other, confusingly mixed up with genuine love and affection. I recognised the resonance of truth, and fiction or not, that gives these stories power. After all, family dynamics are something we all absorb from birth.
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.