BOOK REVIEW: The Rattler and Other Stories (AS Patrić, Spineless Wonders)

Spineless Wonders is a new, Northern Territory-based small publisher, specialising in short fiction. It is heartening to see a publisher championing shortstory collections, especially quality ones such as The Rattler, the debut collection by Melbourne writer (and bookseller) A S Patrić. These stories range from narrative experiments such as the chilling ‘B O M B S’, an oblique look at terrorism, to more playful pieces such as ‘Ducks’, which imagines Anais Nin and June Miller living out their autumn years in Elwood. Regardless of mood or technique, the stories are highly poetic, both in terms of their rhythmic use of language and the way in which they show quotidian objects and landscapes—Melbourne suburbia in particular—in a strange, often unsettling, new light. The only real exception is the title story, which lacks the assurance and edginess of the shorter pieces. Its central character Atticus quits his job as a tram driver in order to devote himself to writing about his tram-driving experiences. The experiences themselves, rather than Atticus’ struggles to document them, might have been more interesting to read about. But there are enough gems among the other 17 stories to impress any short-fiction enthusiast seeking a fresh and vibrant new voice.

David Cohen is a Brisbane-based writer and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Bookseller+Publisher, which is available online here. (Spineless Wonders is now based in Sydney.)

The November issue!

Well, the stylish November issue is in the house. As well as the usual reviews and news, it’s got interviews with author and bookseller A S Patric, whose short story collection The Rattler is published by Spineless Wonders in November, Brian Falkner who has a new YA series kicking off in November with Recon Team Angel: Assault (Walker Books), Frank Moorhouse, whose ‘Edith Trilogy’ wraps up with Cold Light (Random House, November) and, of course, Ray Martin, whose new book Ray Martin’s Favourites (Victory, November) contains the stories behind some of his favourite interviews.

In the same issue, Eloise Keating looks at changes to sales repping and Andrea Hanke investigates the finer details of digital rights. We report on the Melbourne and Brisbane writers’ festivals, Reuben Crossman reflects on the international book design awards and Kate Cuthbert interviews two digital advocates working in romance publishing.

BOOK REVIEW: Like Being a Wife (Catherine Harris, Vintage)

With recommendations from the likes Nick Earls and Fay Weldon on the cover, this collection of short stories comes with some high expectations—which it firmly lives up to. Written mostly in the first person, these loosely connected stories flit between 1980s suburban Melbourne to California, Chicago and back to Ballarat. The sense of location is strong and all of the stories provide poignant insights into the various forms of human relationships under examination. I found the stories moving, thought-provoking and funny in equal measure, and my favourites were ‘Our Breakfast Hostess, or How I Gained 15 Kilos—A Memoir’ (about a breakfast radio producer and her growing hatred for her boss) and ‘Too Many People’ (a vignette about a daughter’s relationship with her reluctant mother). Harris was shortlisted for the 2009 Victorian Premier’s Prize for an unpublished manuscript and it’s easy to see why. Each story is beautifully crafted, ending perfectly, and yet they all left me craving more. A clear and assured voice emerges from the first page and I will certainly be keeping my eye out for Harris’ promised upcoming novel.

Rachel Wilson is a Melbourne-based academic and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Reading Madame Bovary (Amanda Lohrey, Black Inc.)

Amanda Lohrey’s new book of short fiction, Reading Madame Bovary, is a collection of middle-class vignettes. The stories are peopled with characters who will be familiar to readers of Australian literary fiction because Lohrey’s characters reminded me very strongly of the type of book buyers who are readers of Australian literary fiction. Mostly women, they fret over where to send their children to school, they are burdened by stressful jobs, difficult marriages, and the stress of waiting for medical test results, but their lives are overwhelmingly comfortable. Yet, it is in the dark corners of comfortable middle-class lives, the desperation that her characters experience, that Lohrey’s writing finds its strength. Her characters are written with extraordinary fullness and depth, yet her writing seems effortless and natural. There’s not a word out of place here. Reading Madame Bovary is a pleasure to read. The stories are long enough not to scare off those who have misgivings about short fiction, but still true to the form that delights those of us who are short fiction fans. I can imagine it sparking lively debate among bookclub readers at your store.

Eliza Metcalfe is a freelance writer and editor and former assistant editor of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Wordlines: Contemporary Australian writing (selected by Hilary McPhee, Five Mile Press)

Hilary McPhee, as many will know, is one of Australia’s most respected publishing figures. Thus, my reaction to hearing that she has created a collection of Australian short fiction was one of excitement. And I was not disappointed. McPhee has brought together a collection of work that is, almost universally, excellent. For the hesitant, there are familiar names—Drusilla Modjeska, Alex Miller, Nam Le, whose compelling ‘Cartagena’ from The Boat opens Wordlines. Woven in among the more established names are writers that were completely new to me and were a great joy to discover. As a fairly regular reader of short fiction, opening with ‘Cartagena’ had me worried that I was going to end up rereading many pieces that I’d read before. However, ‘Cartagena’ was the exception. Indeed, many of the pieces in this collection have been written especially for it. Wordlines is intended to be the first in a series, which is another exciting bit of news. I look forward to reading future instalments and reaping the benefit of McPhee’s accomplished eye for enthralling, entertaining and challenging writing.

Eliza Metcalfe is a freelance writer and editor and former assistant editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Wordlines will be published in July.