The Best Australian Stories 2008
Black Inc., $29.95 pb, 293 pp
‘I like sad girls,’ confesses the creepy narrator of ‘His Blue Period’, the story by Deborah Robertson that opens the latest anthology of short fiction from Black Inc. It is never entirely clear what form this liking took. The narrator’s intentions were undoubtedly sexual, but not just that. What he seemed to desire most of all was the story of each girl’s sadness – the telling of her particular tale of woe, ‘the full, heavy, sad, sweet works’ which blossomed (at least in his mind) like a magnolia. And how did he elicit such revelation? Simply by asking each of his melancholy companions about her childhood; it is there, he supposes, that true sorrow first takes root. Robertson’s story is sinisterly opaque, not least because the tables are eventually turned on the predatory narrator (the past tense of his opening confession is surely significant in that respect). Things start to fall apart after his brief encounter (a late-night quickie) with a woman who boldly describes her childhood as ‘lots of laughs’. This entanglement precipitates such a crisis of confidence in him that he suddenly has the urge to redecorate his yuppie apartment: ‘I wanted to go downstairs and take the car from the garage and drive out of the city to the suburbs, and in the unfamiliar streets I wanted to find a Bunnings.’ There is a deft comic touch here, but the dominant note is indeed a blue one, suggesting a vast metropolis of inexplicable sorrow.