Love, luv, lurve.
I adore a good love story. And the short form is perfectly suited to the genre, as this collection will attest. Destiny, heat and lust, cold betrayal, unrequited. It’s all here.
Cate Kennedy’s introduction is superb and I hope other Editors will take note of it. There is no need for spoilers and academic dissections. Nor do we need explanations about how the reader should interpret any given story or what we should expect to gain from the read. I have always felt that writers prefer their work to be interpreted by the reader; it allows for so many possibilities. Kennedy (award winning writer and poet) clearly understands this and she gives us a beautifully written introduction on what it means to be entrusted with so many pieces of work, juxtaposed with the interpretation of love itself, and a vignette on her considered approach to choosing the stories to be included in the collection. She writes:
‘They’re not all pretty, any more than love is always pretty, but look, here they are, miraculous, tumbled and shining, from a stranger’s cupped hand to yours. I hope you love them.’ (6)
The grouping of the stories into what Kennedy calls a ‘narrative arc’ is uncontrived and gives the Contents pages the look of a poem with stanzas introduced thus: ‘That Sensuous Weight’ and ‘The Unbroken Trajectory of Falling’ book-ending seven sections in total. Beautiful.
Are they all love stories? That will be up to the reader to determine but I wasn’t sure about a few. ‘Is that what you call love?’ I asked myself. I was sometimes puzzled. Are all these stories Australian? Not necessarily in setting, so the Australian of the title perhaps relates more to authorship.
Minor quibbling. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Let’s look at some of these stories.
I am going to start with my favourite. As I began to read Susan Midalia’s A BLAST OF A POEM, I felt my spine relax. Aah. This is the one I’d been waiting for. Other readers will have a completely different aah moment I expect. ‘A Blast of a Poem’ starts off in a domestic setting with ‘creamy songs’ of ‘moons and stars and rivers’ and ‘one that made me shiver without knowing why’ (179) and with paragraphs beginning ‘When I was fourteen years old and gushingly romantic…’ (179) or ‘When I was twenty-four and my heart was shattered…’ (180). There are layers of love, set over yet more layers, gently and succinctly unfurling a life for us to see in all its sweetness, heartache and devotion. The story takes us from the undoing of a poem to primal sex, and to a few places in between. There are so many beautiful phrases and sentences and words I could offer you here as a sample. I have chosen this one, not because it is necessarily the best, but because it gives you an idea of it all, without spoilers:
As the weeks became months and the months became years, my life began to feel like an old time movie, in which the leaves of a calendar are ripped off and tossed aside by some cruel, invisible hand. (185)
Here are some other standouts:
LOVER LIKE A TREE
J Anne deStaic’s haunting tale of addiction left me breathless. Here’s a man caught in ‘his own private storm’ (56), his veins like ‘wide highways painted blue’ (54). Here’s a woman who lays beside him watching him breathe. She remembers ‘the heat of his skin on hers when all that will fit between them is one layer of sweat’ (56). All the man wants is ‘morphine and a lover like a tree’ (58).
Bruce Pascoe allows the reader into the bed of the narrator and into the depths of his thoughts so that we can see beyond what may seem like simple, everyday actions, to the enormity of the emotion that propels them.
Sally-Ann Jones has given us a hint of star-crossed lovers of different shades. A ‘Ten Pound Pom’ (130) and an older Aboriginal farm hand. Love barely hinted at, barely understood. ‘Biscuits’ (as the farm hand is known) is cool and knowing; he’s warm and open, he’s understanding and closed. ‘Don’t look at me, kid,’ he tells her (136) when ‘she was sixteen and he was twenty-four’ (135). And much later when she goes to visit him, he warns her to stay away. She tries to entice him into what she has always yearned for on the eve of her wedding. ‘It could be a wedding present,’ is her desperate enticement. ‘No’ is his succinct response (138-139). Sexy. Intriguing. Sad, in a way. But is it optimistic as well? Maybe.
Allison Browning writes of mature weathered love. Enzo has dementia and the home is both alien and familiar. He wants to awake beside his partner Nev but time warps and memories waver and he is constantly distressed by the current self and the self of his dreams. ‘He is no longer the young man he was moments ago, without lines and the notations that time leaves.’ (224) But Nev still sees him through eyes of love: ‘He looks worn, his body deflated, but the essence of him fills the space somehow like the echo of laughter in a room’ (233).
A LITERARY LOVE STORY (memoir)
Catherine Bateson’s entry (which I read as a letter to a younger self) gives a nod to the Bronte sisters and [French novelist] Colette and, as the title suggests, literary allusion and metaphor abound. ‘Once I woke with a French phrase clinging to my morning mouth, the only language for unrequited love.’ (21) Strangely though, it is wonderfully Australian.
MOSES OF THE FREEWAY
David Francis knows how to amuse. Gorgeously laugh-out-loud politically incorrect at almost every turn. Can’t resist these quotes:-
- The lesbians just look awkward as usual (142)
- Next came the photo of the foundling called Marvel from El Salvador (143)
- I, myself, can’t go to the gym. It isn’t safe. I end up backstage in the showers for hours, wondering if I shouldn’t just stay there forever, have my mail forwarded. (146)
- My own pittance sent each month to Amalia from Manila. Lagoon eyes and a slightly snotty nose. Save the Christians probably added the snot for the photo. (146)
- Bette’s vaguely bipolar in a subversive downtown beatnik sort of way, her hair a tangled mess. (148)
A GREEK TRAGEDY
Claire Varley. Beautifully written. Beautifully sad.
WHERE THE HONEY MEETS THE AIR
Carmel Bird’s stream-of consciousness comic monologue is fun. I adore its word play and jokes about topics as varied as ‘Elizabethan roots’, dictionaries and bees and ‘the merry media, social and anti-social’ (288).
There’s a good review at Musings of a Literary Dilettante.
My review is cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.
Kennedy, Cate (Ed). Australian Love Stories. Inkerman and Blunt, Carlton South, Aust, 2014.
ISBN: 9 780987 540164
In the interests of full disclosure – one of the fundamentals of journalism – I confess to entering into the call for short stories about love, boots and all, but my ‘baby’ didn’t make the cut. I certainly didn’t take it personally and recalled a 2006 interview with Jane Sullivan (the Age) during which Kennedy talks about one of her short stories finding a place in The New Yorker after it had failed to make a mark in a number of Australian competitions. Ruminating on the lesson to take these knock-backs in a professional manner, she said it was a case of ‘Some other time, some other place’.