Fiction

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noun Stack of Books 2157520

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Kate Finlayson’s first novel is a bumpy bronco ride, as exhilarating, confronting, and messy as the Northern Territory that she writes about so passionately. Finlayson’s protagonist, Connie, is stuck barmaiding in a rough city pub. Despite her street smarts and university degree, Connie is starting to go to the dogs along with the pub’s patrons. She decides to leave Sydney to pursue a post-adolescent obsession with Rod Ansell, the inspiration for the Crocodile Dundee films. Ansell (his real name) is hiding somewhere in the Territory, and Connie fantasises about finding him and turning him into her ideal lover, her longed-for soul mate.

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John Birmingham’s After America is the second book in what is clearly intended to be a trilogy of page-turners – a follow-up to his Axis of Time trilogy, the swashbuckling alternative history which saw a US carrier battle group transported back in time to the middle of World War II. After America, the sequel to Without Warning (2009), is set in a decidedly dystopian alternative present, the result of a mysterious energy wave that wipes out most of the human and animal life forms in North America in 2003. As one might expect, chaos ensues. A global ecological catastrophe has accompanied the human disappearance, a civil engineer from Seattle (the only big US city to survive the wave) has been elected president, Israel has launched nuclear strikes on its Middle East neighbours, and groups of well-organised pirates from Lagos have taken over New York City.

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We are introduced to the eponymous hero of Jacko by an Australian narrator who is writing a novel about China and teaching a writing class at New York University. The students in his class hero-worship Grace Paley, Alice Munro, and Raymond Carver and compose pieces for submission to the New Yorker.

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We meet Tannenbaum in his ‘cosy Anne Frankish semi-hidden nook’. These writerly Jewish recluses have very little else in common; Tannenbaum is separated from his wife and two children. His friend/lover Anise is trying to drink her way out of a nervous breakdown. For further solace he resorts to ‘horizontal unravelling’ or ‘psychiatric horizontality’.

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As interviewer to the literary gentry in the Yacker series, Candida Baker could hardly be deemed a stranger to the agonies and ecstasies of the fiction writer’s craft. Her skill as interviewer and journalist has attracted attention and praise, and now everyone who’s been holding their breath to see how Candy Baker would manage her own first excursion into fiction can relax with a sigh of relief.

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I have often found myself feeling a little frustrated after reading a David Foster novel. While never doubting his ability as a writer, the convolutions of his narrative have, more than once, overshadowed his undeniably fine prose. His latest book, Hitting the Wall, a collection of two novellas, allows us the opportunity to examine how Foster handles the more urgent needs of this much shorter form.

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Perhaps too many relatives, constant rain, and excessive New Year celebrations have left me cranky and cheerless, but Morris Lurie’s latest novel, Seven Books for Grossman, did little to improve the general malaise. It is a slight volume. It certainly lacks the insight and compassion of some of Lurie’s short story collections like Dirty Friends. It also lacks the humour.

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‘I wrote this book to show what dogs can do’, writes Archimedes the red setter in the preface to his book, and what follows are the experiences, observations, and reflections of a dog both ordinary and extraordinary. Archimedes’ physical life is constrained by his ‘employment’ with the Guests, an average Sydney suburban family – father, mother, and three children. He is taken for walks – the dog laws make unaccompanied walks too dangerous, he leaves his ‘messages’ in appropriate places, he knows the electricity poles intimately, and the dogs in his territory, Lazy Bill, Princess, Old Sorrowful Eyes, and Victor the bulldog.

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Colonised asteroids, plentiful spaceships, an Astrogold Corporation tower approached by aircar: these are tokens of a world soothingly remote from present-day anxieties. But in Thor’s Hammer by Wynne Whiteford (Cory & Collins, 150 pp, $3.95 pb), the euphoric sense of disconnection has extended rather too far.

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I would not lightly mention any writer of fiction in the same breath as John Cheever, who was one of the most remarkable and enjoyable storytellers of our times. I can’t better this short comment which says it all: ‘The Cheever corpus is magical – a mood, a vision, a tingle, all quite unexplainably achieved.’ That is from Newsweek and graces the front cover of The Stories of John Cheever (King Penguin).

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