Between the covers
Best Australian Short Stories 2009
Edited by Delia Falconer
Every word counts in a short story. They must “cut to the bone” according to Delia Falconer, editor of Best Australian Short Stories 2009. This year’s selection contains 26 stories gleaned from anthologies and journals, parcelled up in one crisply designed book. Established names such as Marion Halligan, Gerard Windsor, Peter Goldsworthy, Dorothy Johnston and Eva Hornung (formerly Sallis) sit beside writers beginning to make their mark on the literary scene. While any ‘best of’ collection reflects the editor’s tastes, this edition is a showcase of confident, vibrant, intense, startling, sometimes brutal and often funny slices of life.
Loss and belonging thread through Gail Jones’ The Bridge of Sighs as a tourist wanders the mirage-like city of Venice while her own relationship dissolves. Robert Drewe’s The Lap Pool takes us inside the mind of a disgraced executive who finds a fleeting sense of purpose and solace in swimming lengths in his pool on a northern NSW property. Kim Scott’s quietly rhythmic A Refreshing Sleep travels to an ancestral massacre site where silences, omissions and imaginings are absorbed into known histories.
Lightly sketched details of the seemingly everyday appear in Georgia Blain’s Intelligence quotient when a woman bumps into her former babysitter and revaluates events from the past. Jo Case’s Hell is other parents casts an exasperated eye over the clash of moral values and parenting styles when bringing up boys. Mal by Brooke Dunnell explores family duty, impatience and compassion as a woman accompanies the 103-year-old patriarch to the doctor for his test results.
Edginess pervades Tara June Winch’s beautifully nuanced A Late Netting as conflict and desire simmer between two men and a woman cooped up in a yacht during a storm. Steven Amsterdam parachutes us into a possibly apocalyptic flood event in Dry Land, as a horse-riding government employee evacuates people while pocketing their abandoned goods. Cate Kennedy’s White Spirit takes on the vexed issue of who sometimes really benefits from hard-won multicultural community arts funding. Karen Hitchcock’s In Formation swerves between the competitive world of ambitious academic colleagues and the transgressions and anxieties between partners.
Whether flicking through randomly, beginning with a favourite author or reading the book sequentially, the result is a vivid mosaic of ideas, voices, settings, preoccupations, structures and narrative styles. For readers this is an easy way to dip into new Australian writing. For aspiring writers, this book is a must.
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