Short Stories

Ikons by George Papaellinas

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February–March 1986, no. 78

On the stage or off, Peter Mavromatis is the unswerving centre of these stories. Unswerving as a focus, that is – in himself he swerves all over the place. Who and what is Peter Mavromatis? That’s what he’d like to know. His Cypriot parents and grandmother know who he should be. Sydney-born, he has grown up saddled with Greekness as a birthright and an unpayable debt. Peter Blackaeye: is he ‘Grik’? No, the Greeks at GMH decide, and drive him off the job. Australian? Not to his family, nor to many Australians.

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Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville & Bearded Ladies by Kate Grenville

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November 1985, no. 76

What a pleasure to be reviewing Kate Grenville’s collection of stories and her novel!

First, Bearded Ladies: The stories are a delight. Ranging with ease over four continents, they portray women in a variety of relationships – girls brought face-to-face with a sexual world, women coping with men, without men, women learning to be. The writing is witty, satirical, compassionate, clear as a rock pool and as full of treasures.

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Zooing by & Going Home by Archie Weller

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November 1985, no. 76

A reviewer’s prejudices are rarely so obvious to him as are mine in the case of these two books. I have an instinct of sympathy with Peter Goldsworthy. Our first books of stories received a joint review from John Tranter in the Sydney Morning Herald. The venerable poet was, let us say, splendidly discouraging: Windsor’s and Goldsworthy’s joint faults made them ‘like so many hundreds of forgotten Australian short story writers before them’. We have been victims together. In the case of Archie Weller, I have to admit to negative prejudices. Weller is promoted as someone who nearly won the Vogel Prize, and I am suspicious of all the media hype and puff that surrounds that award. The price of greater publicity, runs my prejudice (conviction?), should be sharper critical attention.

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This is the largest and most eclectic of Wilding’s four collections of short stories so far. Its 284 pages include stories ranging from ninety pages and two. Mostly written in the first person, they range in space between England and Australia, go back to the childhood of the narrator(s) (sometimes identified as Mike or Michael, making the autobiographical inferences irresistible) and in mode range from social realism through to the surrealistic modes of ‘What it was like, sometime

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People produce art to explain and honour the life they know, and to many the short story is a logical medium for that expression. The more futuristic art gurus, however, believe that printed pages are destined for extinction as an art form and that the short story will be first on the Dodo list.

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T.A.G. Hungerford’s new book Stories from Suburban Road is sub-titled ‘an autobiographical collection’ and comes complete with an appendix of photographs in the style of a family album with captions such as ‘Mick and me, 1922’, ‘Me, aged 16, and Phyllis Kingsbury, Scarborough, 1931’, and ‘Mum and Mrs Francis Victoria Wood, Como Beach, 1930’. Also, throughout the collection each story, sixteen in all, is accompanied by a photograph of the period of the author’s childhood and adolescence between the wars. The impression this provides is that the reader is invited to participate in Hungerford’s nostalgia for his past which consequently may be an inaccessibly private world – more reminiscence than substance. This impression proves to be quite incorrect. The photographs are moments frozen in time, enclosed in a period before this reader was born and the stories offer insight into them. They mutually contribute to the impression created, generally, of a world of innocence and delight. The happy and robust youth in the photographs looks contentedly into the camera from an ordered, acceptable world. They also perhaps complement the selectivity of the author’s imagination.

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In an authorial note Fay Zwicky describes her collection of stories as thematic rather than chronological.

They are all concerned more or less ironically, with the growth of a writer’s consciousness which may help to account for the varying degrees of stylistic density and the shifts in personae.

The first seven stories, the Helen Freeman sequence, offer a retrospective view of Helen’s struggle to establish a female identity in a world dominated by men and by masculine edicts and rituals. Taking a hint from the introductory note, these stories reflect, in essence, the stages in the author’s personal development from her youthful recollections of her family during and after the Second World War to her marriage and separation. It is arguable whether these stories should be treated as the discontinuous narrative of one life, though they can be read that way. They are not, however, an autobiography. 

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Archipelagoes by Peter Goldsworthy & The Harlots Enter First by Gerard Windsor

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February–March 1983, no. 48

It is comparatively rare for a new writer to bring out his first two collections in the one year, and even more rare that one should be a collection of verse and the other of short stories. Yet this is exactly what Peter Goldsworthy has done. His name will be unfamiliar to many, but those who regularly read literary magazines will have come across his stories and poems before and he will undoubtedly be heard of again.

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This collection of stories put me off from the first page. In the opening paragraph there is ‘an exuberant kelpie bounding’. The second paragraph outdoes that, presenting seagulls as ‘wheeling and screaming’, in search of ‘a reeking fish head’. We already know that ‘the life was lonely, but it was peaceful’. Clichés enlivened by irony or just some simple surprise of context proves useful tools in the hands of a good writer. But Julie Lewis, on the evidence of Double Exposure, is not a good writer and cliches are offered up to us without any apology. Much of the problem seems to be that she overdoes adjectives and adverbs:

She felt for a pulse. Feeble. She gingerly touched the stubbly cheek It was bruised and there was a gash on the forehead. His clothes, seaman’s wear, were soaked. She studied the unconscious form. He was fairly young, about thirty, she thought. Looked a battler. She smiled ruefully and gently lifted the lock of hair that had fallen across his brow. It was matted with blood. (‘Flotsam’, p 2)

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Peter Murphy is one of the very best poets under forty writing in Australia today. He also works in the theatre. His play Glitter was performed at the Adelaide Arts Festival, and he has written the libretto for an opera with music by Helen Gifford. Black Light, his first published book of short stories, shows him to be a craftsman of the first order in yet another field.

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