I must say at the outset that I’m not fond of this idea of putting excerpts from novels and longer works into a collection. Short stories and novellas are self-contained pieces of writing that, whilst they may leave much unsaid, don’t leave you with the notion that the author didn’t finish what he or she set out to do.
Most of the works in Sunscreen and Lipstick are excerpts from novels or memoir and, as such, are not written to stand alone. Without the full story, some extracts failed to interest me entirely. Others were wonderfully enticing which, unfortunately, leaves me with only one option. If I want the full story, then I need to purchase another book. It may not be the intention of the publishers, but it could be construed as straight-out commercialism. Instead, I’ll adopt the notion that in combining works of emerging writers with some of Australia’s best known authors, the former get a leg-up in being read and critiqued and it gives writers the opportunity to sample the various authors.
Deborah Robertson’s ‘Living Arrangements’ is a beautiful insight into the life of a lonely woman – Roxie – whose promiscuity is yet another wall, even as her sexuality is used as a means to an end.
Roxie gets the visit she has been dreading from a Social Security official checking on living arrangements (Roxie, in a fit of confusion over the form that seemed designed to catch her out, had written “I’m a Lesbian” (93)):
Hers was a look I had been running from all my life: sensible shoes, sensible skirt, sensible blouse. […] I guessed we were about the same age but I hoped my face wasn’t as dragged by time and disappointment (101)
Roxie’s dry pragmatic voice comes through loud and clear. Here’s her succinct impression of the social security office:
There was a kid screaming, an old guy coughing up his guts, a woman clutching her briefcase as if it held all her dignity: the usual. (89)
In ‘Maisie Goes to India’, Joan London showcases her award-winning style with descriptive passages such as the flock of birds that “rose, shrieking, while their wings flapped liked aprons in dismay” (156) and clouds that “fill the sky with domes and turrets” (170)
The blurb touts that “this book is all about women” but I think that is an interpretation too narrow. T.A.G. Hungerford’s ‘The Fisher Hat’ for example, says something about a boy’s relationship with his mother but the story is really about a boy growing up, not about the mother.
‘Gnowangerup Doctors’ – a written record of Kim Scott’s interview with Hazel Brown – is at once soft and harsh. Be prepared, if you are a parent, to feel your solar plexus pierced in four powerful pages.
If you fancy a bit of a writerly Tapas, then this book might be what you are looking for. Just be prepared to put your hand in your pocket when you’ve finished tasting and realise what you really wanted was a big plate of paella.
Sunscreen and Lipstick, compilation with introduction by Liz Byrski. Fremantle Press, Fremantle, WA., 2012.
My thanks to Lisa Hill at ANZ LitLovers for the opportunity to read and review Sunscreen and Lipstick. This review is cross posted there.