Collected Stories is a misleading title for Louis Nowra’s new publication. It’s nothing as uniform as that. Apart from poetry, is there any genre in which Nowra has not made his mark? He’s a playwright, screenwriter, novelist, memoirist, local historian, essayist, reviewer, feature journalist – and the author of one enduring Australian gem in Così (1992), in all its multiple forms. Yet he has scouted out other territories and the results jostle together in Collected Stories. Such a title conjures up a lifetime’s labour in the genre – gatherings of Anton Chekhov or John Cheever or Alice Munro. But Nowra’s volume is essentially a ragbag of disparate writings.
The world’s last known Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Surviving film footage of the marsupial is brief. No sound recordings exist of a thylacine’s bark or cough. Its extinction is one of Australia’s most lamentable tales. Nowra’s sad, dark novel imagines how these carnivores could care for two children lost in the wilderness.
‘Ice is everywhere,’ observes the narrator of Ice, Louis Nowra’s fifth novel, before succumbing to a bad case of the Molly Blooms and giving us a few pages of punctuation-free interior monologue. No wonder he’s so worked up: ice, in Ice, really is everywhere. It is subject, motif, organising principle, and all-purpose metaphor; it is death, life, stasis, progress; it is seven types of ambiguity and then some. For variety’s sake, Nowra occasionally wheels out a non-frozen alternative – taxidermy, waxworks – but the design is clear: these are merely different nuclei around which the same cluster of metaphors gather.'
Louis Nowra was born in 1950 and is – as he presents himself in this memoir – that very mid-century thing, an outsider. An outsider in terms of class, mental constitution, and sexuality (for a time), Nowra suffers a worse, and originary, alienation from his mother. Being born on the fifth anniversary of his mother’s shooting of her father ...