Six Australian short-story collections that made an impression on me this year
For a long time, even before I’d written a book but told people, misguidedly, that I was working on a collection of short stories, the response I received would usually be, ‘I heard short stories are making a comeback’, sometimes with a sympathetic nod, or whispered like a quiet, sad mantra. That was several years ago. Did this happen? I honestly can’t tell, and it probably doesn’t even matter.
Here are six Australian short story collections that made an impression this year.
Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
Ellen van Neerven is a year from being 25, and her book is both mature and immature, in the best ways possible. Science fiction and realism are presented side by side, with plant people struggling to be heard, and women being lifted off the ground into telegraph poles. What binds even the most disparate elements is Neerven’s assured grasp of narrative and her evident heart for each of these characters.
An Elegant Young Man by Luke Carman
Technically this collection came out in 2013 but in the dead zone of November where I’d missed it, until earlier this year. Put simply, An Elegant Young Man was the best book I read this year. Great voice, and actually funny. I bought it as a Christmas gift for my brother who doesn’t read that much fiction.
Only The Animals by Ceridwen Dovey
This one is a tough sell: a book whose aim is to inspire empathy by presenting stories narrated by the souls of dead animals who have been killed in a conflict of human history. This read has split the opinions of lots of people I know but what results from the premise is a vibrant collection that risks a lot.
Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke
I see this book as less a collection of stories and more a collection of detailed portraits which jump around the world, giving us a view into each character’s life, before we’re ferried away. It’s refreshing to see a work of new Australian literature that honestly and openly tackles issues of class and race.
The Promise by Tony Birch
This is Birch’s third collection of stories, after Father’s Day and Shadowboxing. Here he has stripped his work to the bare minimum, and each story’s finely-crafted narrative rolls along to its own grim conclusion. A great example of how you can use plot to reveal a character’s true nature.
Arms Race & Other Stories by Nic Low
A weird book that involves drones – which we should all be thinking about more – along with data theft and a giant octopus, this collection is also very intelligent. Nic Low’s stories read like the work of one of those genius twelve-year-olds who are currently building functional rockets in their back sheds.