Following True Stories, published in 1996, The Feel of Steel is Helen Garner’s second collection of non-fiction. It comprises thirty-one pieces of varying lengths. Longer narratives such as ‘Regions of Thick-Ribbed Ice’, about a hair-raising trip to Antarctica, and ‘A Spy in the House of Excrement’, about the outcome of a cleanse-and-fast régime at a spa resort in Thailand, stand beside delicate haiku-like sketches with a faint stitch of narrative, such as ‘Baby Coughs’ and ‘Who Spilt the Wine?’ Large and small beads, they are strung onto strong autobiographical thread.
Unlike much of Garner’s earlier work, this latest collection does not make strong appeals to readers’ moral sensibilities. And, unlike the stories in True Stories, which are easily singled out or read randomly, the non-fiction-that-feels-like fiction of The Feel of Steel gains from being understood as it is arranged in the book, each piece answering to the others around it. It’s a question of relationship.