Black Pepper, $26.95 pb, 156 pp, 9781876044664
How to review a book that includes, as major characters, Simpson and his donkey, the Dig Tree, and a bus that may or may not be a tram? In the case of Wayne MacAuley’s Other Stories,it is best to read story by story, pausing only to chart connecting themes in the cultural landscape.
MacAuley’s short fiction draws inspiration from a surprisingly broad range of influences. Adam Lindsay Gordon, Simpson, and the inland sea are all featured in his kaleidoscopic rendition of Australian history. The author also revisits suburbia, seeing the potential for both connection and disconnection in widening roads and disjointed communities.
What sets MacAuley apart from his contemporaries is his willingness to experiment with form and theme. His shortest stories, such as ‘The Streets Are Too Wide’ and the excellent ‘One Night’, are lingering images that veer closer to narrative poetry than to prose. His longer pieces weave tales about elaborate themes: his 1995 Age Short Story Competition winner, ‘Reply to a Letter’,explores the implicit bonds between a husband, a wife, and their performing bear. High concept, for the most part, takes precedent over character. In some of the shorter pieces, characters are barely developed at all. Even in the longer ones, it is difficult for the reader fully to connect with the emotional core of any of the players.
Regardless, Other Stories is an excellent collection. There is much to admire here: lyrical, rhythmic prose melds effortlessly with MacAuley’s uncanny ability to create an indelible image, and the author plays raconteur with great ease. The result is a thinking man’s compendium of quality literature, while the heart gets slightly short shrift.
CONTENTS: FEBRUARY 2011