Josephine Rowe

In today's episode, Josephine Rowe – winner of the 2016 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize – reads a new short story, 'Bunker', which appears in the June issue of ABR. Josephine has published three short story collections and a novel called A Loving, Faithful Animal.

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The quiet had left me. That’s how I put it, but I meant Maree. Most of her cosmetics abandoned in a swollen-stuck bathroom drawer. Hydrators, anti-aging, complexion correction. Potions, I called them, like an old man describing a woman’s things. A few days after she left I tried them on myself, mostly for the smell of her. Of course they did not correct anything, did not make me beautiful, only streaked me to an unlikely shade – Maree’s – darker and more lustrous than my own. I accepted why she’d gone. She’d made a choice, and it was not the wrong choice – her folks old and susceptible, too proud to see it and too stubborn to budge. Bad reception where they are. Have to climb a hill to make a call. But she never climbs the bloody hill. And her emails, when they come, arrive in business hours.

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Besides a capacity to write well, critics need to be well-informed. I sometimes get exasperated by reviewers without sufficient expertise in the topics they are considering. On the other hand, academic pedantry can also be off-putting, particularly when couched in a clunky style. In general, I’ve found the most memorable pieces to be those which say something about the reviewer as well as the author under review, like portraits which work through a kind of double vision, offering insights into the painter as well as the sitter. There was a very good essay on Les Murray by J.M. Coetzee in the New York Review of Books a few years ago which had this double-edged quality.

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In her essay On Beverley Farmer, Josephine Rowe recounts a 2013 visit to Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art to see an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’s Late Works. Among the drawings and sculptures on display was The Waiting Hours, described by Rowe as ‘a series of twelve small oceanscapes’ each of which shifts fluidly, a ‘darkening whorl around the small white axis of a singular source of light shrunk to a pinhole … at once a pivot point and a vanishing point’. The effect on Rowe of this encounter was ‘one of powerful undercurrent. I felt not much and then, abruptly, disconsolate. Swept out of depth. A plunge, a plummet: the inrush towards that oceanic sense of recognition experienced most commonly in dreams, but sometimes spilling over into waking life – encounters in art and music, in nature or, more rarely, in meeting (as though hello, again).’

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Here Until August: Stories by Josephine Rowe & This Taste for Silence: Stories by Amanda O’Callaghan

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September 2019, no. 414

The inciting incident in Josephine Rowe’s short story ‘Glisk’ (winner of the 2016 Jolley Prize) unpacks in an instant. A dog emerges from the scrub and a ute veers into oncoming traffic. A sedan carrying a mother and two kids swerves into the safety barrier, corroded by the salt air, and disappears over a sandstone bluff ...

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Certain days: it is easy to imagine this small, once-prosperous river town (barely distinct from many other small, once prosperous river towns) as if you are only passing through it, shunpiking the thruways in favour of the scenic rural two-lanes on a road trip in your better, your best life. The life in which your formidable boxer-turned-human-rights-lawyer wife has simply pointed to this town on a much misfolded map and declared: Here, lunch.

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The 2016 Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize ceremony was held at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 27 August. The event was compèred by ABR Deputy Editor, Amy Baillieu, with opening remarks from poet and author Maxine Beneba Clarke.