Kate Rotherham’s ‘Potholes’ is a standout piece in the 2014 Margaret River Short Story Competition collection (The Trouble With Flying and other stories). Perhaps it has something to do with its upbeat humour amongst some melancholy, introspective stories. Maybe it is the even pace. Or the originality. I suspect it is all of these things and much more.
Harry has read a magazine article entitled ‘Ten ways to a happier life’ and these numbered suggestions (such as express yourself creatively and find your passion) thread their way in and out of ‘Potholes’. Harry does indeed find a way to express himself creatively and ticks another of the recommendations by practis[ing] senseless acts of beauty.
Harry’s father Les is one of those in-my-day, too-busy-working kind of dads common to his milieu who’s “never met a child yet who didn’t have ADHD” (127). After retirement, Les was bombarded with options, all of which he declined to embrace; his response to the idea of a Wednesday evening watercolour class being “I’d rather stab myself in the eyeball with a fork” (129), and when he finds an excuse to visit his old workplace he realises that, without him, the place has become “officially Aspergers Central” (129).
‘Potholes’ is a beautiful, uplifting, original story that made me laugh. I find myself thinking about Harry as I go about mundane tasks. It is pleasant to be reminded of the possibility of beauty in the prosaic.
I have had a soft-spot for Margaret River Press since I reviewed their first collection in 2012, followed up by a review of the 2013 competition collection as well as their first full-length work of fiction, Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt.
There’s always something a little bit quirky to love about the actual printing of the books. In the case of this 2014 collection, it’s the beautiful bird headpiece that ‘plumbs’ onto the reverse and flows through the book in the form of arty section breaks. Both the impressive cover and the text design are by Susan Miller. Clever. Perfect.
Back to the stories . . .
Claire Aman gets a nod for the originality she conjured in ‘Zone of Confidence’, a love story written with the same chutzpah afforded its spunky protagonist. I delighted in this poetic sentence I found hidden amongst more direct text: “At least there are no clouds marauding in the sky, only a white daytime moon tossed up high” (176).
‘My House’ by Rachelle Rechichi tells the story of a family in the grips of despair and, while seemingly vulnerable, there is a deep underlying strength evident in the narrator, May. Strangely, the tale is ultimately uplifting. I think it is because of the survival instinct we can read into May’s personality.
Melanie Kinsman’s ‘A Paper Woman’ is a poignant tale of a narrator battling disease. The story opens with a punch:
Before you came I spent a bitter winter. My heart froze in my chest. The hospital sheets lay thin and flat against my ribcage. My breasts had been cut off, and a slash of a scar lay in their place. (228)
Kinsman’s words cut precisely to the heart of illness and its surrounding accoutrements, the narrator’s hospital stay a “macabre vacation” (230) from her usual life as she felt like a “fledgling woman: unmade, unfinished, an amputee” (230). She later describes herself as “a paper woman, thin and flammable”, to which her lover’s gaze is a match (235).
In ‘Tear Along the Dotted Lines’, Melanie Napthine uses clever simile, metaphor and imagery.
- Ants that might be attracted by food left out … “would have the bench coated in them, a sheet of shifting black like the hair of a drowned girl” (269)
- A watermarked ceiling sports a “swinging nude globe blindly supervising” (270)
- A “train arrives, with a difficult slowing that its cool silver skin contradicts” (267-8)
I thoroughly enjoyed Glen Hunting’s ‘Martha and the Lesters’. The story tackles a difficult theme with great humour. It’s narrated by Roland (his family was “fairly progressive by wheatbelt standards” (304)) who lodges with the feisty Martha and a collection of spiders who Martha says don’t love her. “They’re only here for the books. I’m certain they come down and pore over them at night when I’m asleep” (305).
Anyone who has suffered severe pain will likely relate to the protagonist’s predicament in the simply and aptly titled ‘Dying’ (Bindy Pritchard). “She learnt how to chase her pain, dip under it and fly beside it until it fitted her body perfectly.” (338)
It is interesting that, of my favourites singled out in this review, Pritchard and Rechichi are the only prize-winners (Pritchard scored second place for ‘Dying’ and Rechichi won the prize for the best story from a South West resident with her story ‘My House’). That’s why I enjoy short story collections. You might not love all the stories but there are usually some that resonate. And there’s lots to love in this collection. I even enjoyed the introduction (quite out of character for me) by Richard Rossiter and Susan Midalia.
So there you go . . . my love affair with Margaret River Press continues.
Check out their website where you can purchase The Trouble with Flying and other publications, find stockists, and read about forthcoming events.
The winning entry in this 2014 competition is, as the title of the book suggests, ‘The Trouble with Flying’ (a coming of age tale) by Ruth Wyer. Congratulations to the Sydney-based ‘fledgling’ writer. When you purchase the book, make sure you check out her bio which is quite a hoot.
The Trouble with Flying and other stories. Ed. Richard Rossiter with Susan Midalia, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, 2014.