Fine
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Fine

Michelle Wright

The dazzlingly accomplished stories in this collection range from a vivid moment of a young girl counting the ‘water hours’, to a scorching tale of schoolyard bullying; a sleep-deprived mother; grandparents of a child at risk deciding where their loyalties lie; a young boy searching for his parents after the Sri Lanka tsunami; a widow walking the beach, and a woman secretly listening to the weather reports on radio: all trying with courage and fragility to present a face to the world that is ‘fine’.

By shining her light on these quiet moments in ordinary lives, Michelle follows in a tradition which includes Olga Masters, Amy Witting and Alice Munro. It is exciting to read a contemporary collection of such breadth. Fine is an astonishing fiction debut from a future star of Australian Literature.

Review

The thirty-three stories in the collection Fine by Michelle Wright, are a wonderful celebration of the modern Australian short story, and a must-read for students of the form. Ranging from ‘flash fiction’ of a page or two, to comprehensive stories of nearly twenty pages, the collection uses the power of suggestion in the shorter form, and complex plotlines and character development in the longest stories.

Many of Wright’s stories have won, or been placed in national competitions. ‘Maggot’ won The Age Story Competition in 2012. Set in a suburban high school in the height of summer, it portrays the tension between pubescent boys and girls, and the cruelty dealt to a new girl named Margot, who’s immediately christened ‘Maggot’ by the class bully. What is especially clever and perceptive in this story is the role other students play in the bullying. Carmel, a sensitive girl of Indian descent, is entrusted to take care of Margot, but realizes this jeopardises her acceptance into the ‘popular’ group, and instead abandons Margot, battling her own guilt and the awareness that she could just as easily be in Margot’s vulnerable position.

The diversity in location is a highlight of this collection. Wright sets many stories in Sri Lanka, utilising her own cultural heritage. ‘Water Hours’, is a heartbreaking story set in the first moments of the 2004 tsunami. Many stories explore social issues  – ‘Family Block’ is a tender story about a young boy residing with his grandparents and waiting for his unreliable mother to visit  – until she cancels the visit yet again. Some relationships are clearly broken, and others are depicted as functional, but simmering with tension. In the titular story, ‘Fine’, a widow tells her grown children that she is indeed ‘fine’, though she listens to a taped version of her husband’s voice every day. ‘I’m fine,’ she replies. ‘Keeping busy.’ Like so many of Wright’s multi-dimensional characters, she is functional on the outside, but consumed by emotion and memories.


Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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