Families: Modern Australian short stories
Five Mile Press, $24.95 pb, 320 pp
Barry Oakley, in his brief introduction to Families: Modern Australian Short Stories, tells us that the quality he was seeking in the fiction was ‘vitality’. This seems a rather broad filter: surely all good writing must possess vitality if it is going to hold the reader’s attention? Notwithstanding, many of the stories here are good, even excellent.
Although some of the less well-known writers offer compelling stories, the best-known ones have, on the whole, produced the most accomplished narratives. David Malouf’s ‘At Schindler’s’ is moving. It concerns a pre-pubescent boy’s realisation that his father is dead (after a long time of regarding him as missing in action) and the accept- ance of his mother’s sexual relationship with a young American soldier. Until then, the boy has thought of the American as a friend. As a rites-of-passage story, it subverts the usual narrative of trauma that a child might suffer on seeing his parent having sex. Tim Winton’s devastating story ‘Family’ is about two damaged adult brothers with a terrible history of hatred and rivalry, who meet accidentally in the surf. The younger one, whose point of view prevails, is publicly humiliated by his failure at Australian Rules and has returned to his home town seeking self- understanding and possible solace with his brother’s wife and children. Although the consequences are tragic, this is a wonderful examination of masculinity and family conflict.