Faced with the publication of her first novel, the narrator of Stepping Out has a terrifying thought. ‘I was about to be unmasked,’ she realises. ‘End of my double life. Everyone was about to dip into my world and find out what was really cooking there ... I felt like I’d placed a bomb and was waiting, under cover, for it to explode.’

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Self-evidently, the short story demands precision. The term ‘short story’ more than likely brings to mind the magazine-length sprint or the rapidly delivered epiphany. John Updike was a master of this demanding form. In his Olinger and Tarbox tales, characters are assembled quickly and sent to their fate with little delay. Never cursory, this was writing performed under haiku-like restraint. In the short stories of Wendy James and Tom Cho, we are presented with similarly brief and precise tales of two different Australian landscapes: one as small as a kitchen, the other as capacious as an arena. Why She Loves Him is James’s first story collection after two well-received novels. For the most part, the stories are quiet and domestic affairs. Her characters are frequently repressed and restrained, filled with rage that is rarely given voice. If the short fiction of some novelists feels too constrained, James’s evocation of despair is perfectly suited to these short bursts.

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Jay Daniel Thompson reviews 'HEAT 19: Trappers Way' edited by Ivor Indyk

Jay Daniel Thompson
Wednesday, 30 September 2020

The key theme of HEAT 19 is death. In 224 pages, a collection of Australian writers and academics pay homage to the departed in a range of essays, poems and short stories. The journal opens with Judith Beveridge’s moving and personal tribute to the poet Dorothy Porter. According to Beveridge, ‘Dot’ (as she was known to her friends) was a ‘consummate professional and her public performances were unfailingly polished’. However, Porter ‘also had a very fragile side, vulnerable to the pain of exclusion and rejection’. The title of Beveridge’s piece is ‘Trapper’s Way’, which is the name for a strip of land in the New South Wales suburb of Avalon where Beveridge once lived with Porter.

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Tim Wright reviews 'Homer Street' by Laurie Duggan

Tim Wright
Monday, 24 August 2020

In all of his books, Laurie Duggan has tended to avoid the ‘well-formed poem’. His poems are not of the kind that unroll like carpets: replete with interconnected images, sonic patterning, argument. A large part of his poetic approach emerges from an attempt to not speak over what is already there, or, as he writes in one poem, to ‘not neutralise / the effect of atmosphere’. This might be described as permitting the incidental, letting things in, but it’s also – Duggan being a self-described minimalist – much to do with omission. The model his oeuvre provides is one that prioritises listening (and looking) over speaking, and in that sense it is anti-bardic. ‘The poem’ as a discrete object is often, and almost entirely within this collection, given over to the series, allowing Duggan to retain qualities of the short lyric while building long-form structures whose rhythms become apparent over years or, in the case of ‘Blue Hills’, over decades.

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Near the beginning of Bruno Lloret’s stark, unvarnished first novel, Nancy, the cancer-riddled protagonist discovers that her husband has died in a workplace accident, sucked into the tuna processor while drunk. With no body to bury, she imagines having ‘a moment alone with the 2,500 tins containing [him]’.

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Jill Jones reviews 'Pirate Rain' by Jennifer Maiden

Jill Jones
Monday, 06 July 2020

Jennifer Maiden is a great experimenter – in a specific sense. In a 2006 interview in The Age she said: ‘I have always found poetry a useful tool for tactical and ethical problem-solving … I suppose it’s a laboratory for testing out ideas.’ Maiden works from an ethical stance, but not, as some critics and readers have assumed, a facile leftist one (whatever ‘left’ means in the twenty-first century). The poems in this latest book are mainly discursive, and many address political situations, issues and, more specifically, public figures and personae.

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If I were to make gauche generalisations about the poetics of MTC Cronin, Jordie Albiston, and Michael Farrell, I might respectively write conceptual, technical, and experimental. But these established poets – each in their fifties, highly regarded – display fluency with all these descriptors, especially in their latest books.

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Having spent two decades or more writing massive verse novels – The Nightmarkets (1986) and The Lovemakers (2001, 2004) – it may seem that Alan Wearne, with his latest book of poetry, The Australian Popular Songbook, has finally returned to smaller forms and, as suggested by the title, a more lyrical idiom. But, as always with Wearne’s work, things aren’t that simple. The smaller forms were already present in the verse novels in the form of sonnets, villanelles and other verse forms buried in the sprawling architecture of the works’ narratives. The ‘lyrical idiom’ of The Australian Popular Songbook is ambiguous at best, offset as it is by Wearne’s characteristic attraction to the dramatic monologue, satire, vernacular culture and wrenched syntax.

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Tom Carment the artist, writer, and man makes a perfectly integrated whole. Carment is a compact, casually neat figure who looks through round-lensed glasses and has a calm stillness even when he’s on the move, as he often is. His art and writing are also on a small scale, intimately observant, informal, and warmly appealing. He has exhibited his paintings and drawings for more than four decades and has written for almost as long, occasionally for publication and often in private. As he said at his book launch, he used to pour most of his thoughts into letters, including one he found recently that ran to thirty-eight pages.

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Sonia Nair reviews 'The House of Youssef' by Yumna Kassab

Sonia Nair
Thursday, 24 October 2019

Yumna Kassab has utilised the sparse economy of short stories to craft her début collection, grounding universal diasporic themes such as generational disconnect, cultural loss, and the weight of familial expectations in the distinct Lebanese-Australian social milieu of western Sydney, where she was born and raised.

Short story collections often lack a certain cohesiveness, but Kassab’s characters each move in the same fictional yet exceedingly real world where Muslim Australians – straddling the line between being hyper-visible and invisible – are both demonised and studiously avoided. Characters with the same names recur from time to time, not always the same characters; reading Kassab’s stories requires a meticulous attention to detail to deconstruct and decipher how various individuals relate to one another.

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