Dark as Last Night by Tony Birch
In Dark as Last Night, Tony Birch celebrates stubborn women and gentle men. Like the poem by Anne-Marie Te Whiu that lends the collection its title, these stories speak to violence and vulnerability, to the ways we are drawn, sometimes, to things that hurt, and to the people and places that give us the strength to survive. Birch has always been a master of the short story form, but his latest collection breathes life in every line – it is so clearly a tribute to the real people Birch honours with this work.
As always, Birch’s writing digs deep, bringing out the truth of people in a way that allows them to surprise and delight, no matter how they appear on the surface. He pays particular attention to the young and the old, to those on the fringes of society whose importance and intelligence is too often disregarded. In the titular story, which carries echoes of the fairytale The Little Match Girl, Rose confronts her own fear to resist the violent control of her father. In ‘Flight’, Nish holds his dreams for the future close to his heart. Birch balances the darkness in these pieces with the hope and loyal defiance that lies at the core of young people. All of the characters brought to life here defy stereotype – they are mouthy, smart, furious and loyal. There is a directness in the way Birch writes these kids and adolescents that shows a deep and clear- eyed respect for their place in the world.
Dark as Last Night is a reminder of the lives that can be shared through the short story, and what a punch they pack when written well. In this stunning, timely collection Birch brings a softness to real and fictional spaces that is sorely needed right now.