The Butcherbird Stories

A.S. Patric

The Butcherbird Stories
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The Butcherbird Stories

A.S. Patric

Eleven stories. Each like a matchstick struck to illuminate the darkness. Evocations of place ranging from a Bangla jungle to the deep, blue Danube to a winter beach in Melbourne excite and seduce. But what truly draws the reader in are the unexpected landscapes of people’s lives, explored with rare sensitivity, grace and a fearless truthfulness.

A lonely St Kilda chef invites a beautiful busker to use his spare room. A father sings a lullaby to comfort his young daughter who has woken from a nightmare. A taxi driver picks up an old-world gentleman who is reluctant to disclose his destination. A young immigrant boy growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne daydreams of infinite possibility.

Death, loneliness, passion and belief: Patric takes on the big questions in life and writes about the small people of the world with stylistic verve and deep humanity. This collection of stories reveals the author, best known for his award-winning novels, as a true master of the short story form. 

Review

A.S. Patrić won the Miles Franklin Award in 2016 for his debut novel, Black Rock White City. His latest book, The Butcherbird Stories, is a collection of eleven stories that confirm his craftsmanship as a writer.

Many of the stories peek behind the veil of dull suburbia to reveal the vivid, yet oftentimes disturbing, lives being lived beneath the surface. A taxi driver, caught in the rain, distractedly awaits the results of his hospitalised wife. A chef fantasises incessantly about a daydreaming backpacker. Two young boys, destructive for the sake of it, unwittingly destroy their friendship in a rampaging afternoon.

Patrić has a manner of describing the way we live our lives that commands a sense of place. When painting the sweltering heat of summer in suburban Melbourne, Patrić, writing as a migrant displaced from his homeland of Serbia, writes: ‘On long summer Sunday afternoons the local pool became a necessity, no longer the luxury it often seemed. The grassy hills rolling away from the water to the cyclone fences were covered with thin towels, filled out by a community that, aside from these sweltering days, never saw itself whole.’

There is a deep loneliness to the world Patrić weaves. Throughout his stories, individuals float aimlessly, constantly aware of the fragility of things. Yet, deeper than this, Patrić writes with a profound understanding of the desperate, catastrophic way that we love.

In ‘Butcherbird’, possibly the most poignant story in his collection, Patrić describes the everyday struggles and fears of fatherhood, concluding with the image of a father comfortingly singing his child to sleep, despite knowing he is just as inept, and frightened by the world, as her.

In some of Patrić’s stories, love is accompanied by great acts of violence or slow-burning failures. Yet in others, like ‘Butcherbird’, it is shown in its purist, most affecting form.


Caitlin Cassidy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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