Datsunland, a collection of short stories and the latest from Stephen Orr, is in many ways flawed. The collection is uneven: the final (titular) work is a novella previously published in a 2016 issue of Griffith Review, which overwhelms the earlier, shorter stories, exhibiting the depth and nuance which several others lack. The narratives and characters alike at times are underdeveloped, and rely on well-worn tropes of the Australian Gothic. And the return of objects and places through the stories, (most notably the all-boys school Lindisfarne College), which acts to structure the stories in reference to one another, occasionally feels tokenistic or forced. But despite this, the collection works. At its best, the writing is insightful and strangely beautiful. Even at its weaker moments, it is consistently powerful. Orr holds the collection together with an impression of force and linguistic brutality.
Orr’s last novel The Hands (2015) was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and was described in Josephine Taylor’s review as having ‘the scope of a Greek tragedy’ (ABR, December 2015), a quote which appears on the back cover of Datsunland. While The Hands follows a single family, Datsunland opens up into a broader interrogation of Australian life, through a series of unflinching portraits which traverse the South Australian landscape, and draw on connections of migration, religion, and colonialism to reach back towards Ireland. It takes on many of the same questions as The Hands in its return to rural experiences, but consistently refuses resolution.