Transit Lounge

The Burnished Sun (UQP, $29.99 pb, 288 pp) by Mirandi Riwoe, Danged Black Thing (Transit Lounge, $29.99 pb, 240 pp) by Eugen Bacon, and Sadvertising (Vintage, $32.99 pb, 298 pp) by Ennis Ćehić are powerful, inventive, and self-assured short story collections that traverse fractured and contested ground through their often displaced and alienated narrators.

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Winner of the University of Tasmania Prize for best new unpublished work in the 2019 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes, The Signal Line is Brendan Colley’s first book. As it happens, my review copy arrived just as I launched into Rhett Davis’s Hovering (2022). Although fundamentally different, both novels open with a fraught return to a family home and a resident resentful sibling. Both protagonists have built a new life in Europe, but where Hovering suggests the possible remaking of the old house into some version of home, The Signal Line seeks to relinquish it.

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Orphan Rock by Dominique Wilson

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April 2022, no. 441

Dominique Wilson’s new novel is another foray into the field of historical fiction. Her two previous novels deal with the pain of living through periods of civil strife and migration, and cover long periods of time and several cultures: The Yellow Papers (2014) is set in China and Australia from the 1870s to the 1970s, while That Devil’s Madness (2016) moves from Paris to Algiers to Australia and back from the 1890s to 1970s.

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Great art provokes by taking great risks. It goads, teases. When we recognise we’re in the hands of a master, the banal becomes profound, the sacred profane, and the grandest of truths reveal themselves in the most innocent of questions. Take Pauly Shore’s scathing 1994 cinematic rebuke of the complicity of heteronormativity in the military industrial complex, In the Army Now. In it, two gay soldiers signal their intent to defy the US Army’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy and serve their country in a neo-colonial war by asking, simply, ‘Is it hot in Chad?’

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Writers seeking publication are often advised to have an ‘elevator pitch’ ready. These succinct book-hooks are designed to jag a trapped publisher in the wink between a lift door closing and reopening. Has this insane tactic ever actually worked? No idea. But it’s fun to imagine the CEO of Big Sales Books, on their way up to another corner-office day of tallying cricket memoir profits, blindsided by three of the looniest elevator pitches imaginable. A novel narrated by Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles! A faux political memoir about a prime minister and his shark vendetta! An academic satire cum historical mystery mashup told largely through the – wait, wait, wait! – footnotes of a PhD thesis! That CEO will probably take the stairs next time, but kudos to the independent publishers who saw the potential in these experimental works and their début authors. Whatever the path of weird Australian writing, long may it find its way to these pages.

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Pushing Back by John Kinsella

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April 2021, no. 430

Comprising more than thirty works of poetry, fiction, memoir, and criticism, John Kinsella’s prolific output is impressive, and this figure doesn’t include his collaborations with other artists. Here is a writer who swims between boundaries, experiments with form and content, and eludes easy categorisation. His most recent novel, Hollow Earth (2019), was a foray into science fiction and fantasy, and his most recent poetry volume The Weave (2020), was co-written with Thurston Moore, founder of NYC rock group Sonic Youth.

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In Western culture’s calendar year, is there some hidden fifth season, and if there is, what is it? The main character of Philip Salom’s fifth novel, a writer called Jack, asks himself near the end of the book whether the fifth season might be ‘Time, which holds the seasons together’, or perhaps the fifth season is simply ‘the Unknown’. Jack is preoccupied with the lost: with those people whose bodies are found but never identified, or those who, suffering amnesia, can’t be identified, but who need ‘to find their proper location in the story. In the seasons. A lost person must be allowed other dimensions.’

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In perhaps the most tender story in this textured, interconnected collection, an adolescent son spends the summer sunbathing in the backyard and sneaking glances at the paperboy while his working-class, stay-at-home father, who reads detective fiction and likes to ‘figure things out before the endings’, gently attempts to make it known to his son that he can tell him anything.

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John Kinsella tends to be a polarising figure, but his work has won many admirers both in Australia and across the world, and I find myself among these. The main knocks on Kinsella are that he writes too much, that what he does write is sprawling and ungainly, and that he tends to editorialise and evangelise. One might concede all of these criticisms, but then still be faced with what by any estimation is a remarkable body of work, one that is dazzling both in its extent and its amplitude, in the boldness of its conceptions and in the lyrical complexity of its moments. An element that tends to be overlooked in Kinsella, both as a writer and as a public figure, is his compassion. What it means to be compassionate, rather than simply passionate, is a question that underpins Kinsella’s memoir Displaced: A rural life.

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Mount Parnassus remains a proscribed destination for the moment, but Aidan Coleman’s Mount Sumptuous (Wakefield Press, $22.95 pb, 56 pp) provides an attractive local alternative. Following on from the poems of love and recovery in Asymmetry (2012), this collection marks the poet’s reawakened appetite for the sublimities and subterfuges of suburban Australia, from cricket pitches ‘lit like billiard tables’ and Blue Light Discos to the flammable wares of Best & Less and the implacable red brick of ‘all-meat / towns’. As these poems and their pseudo-pedagogical endnotes show, Coleman is a keen philologist of the language of commerce. The title’s ‘sumptuous’ (from the Latin sumptus for ‘expense’) keys us in to the vital ambivalence of a poetry, which on the one hand honours the rituals of everyday consumption (‘lounging / book in hand, Tim Tams / … tea a given’), and on the other speaks to the exploitative logic of consumer capitalism (‘Take the juiceless fruits / of day labour and a white / goods salesman’s leaden chicanery’).

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