By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
The Best Australian Stories: A Ten-Year Collection
Edited by Black Inc. (Black Inc. $34.95, softcover, 422 pages)
Even though one might prevaricate over the use of the word ‘best’ in the title of this annual anthology, the onus in picking the finest rested with the five editors.
Peter Craven, Frank Moorhouse, Robert Drewe, Delia Falconer and Cate Kennedy have excelled and provided diversity through the 37 short fiction stories.
A stand-out in this collection from the past decade is Cate Kennedy’s commanding aura in Cold Snap. Young Billy silently rebels against a new resident who tries to claim condescending possession of him as well as her own land. The ending, though plausible, is truly disquieting.
Environmental obsessions result in a satire from Eva Hornung. Fox Unpopuli is about rampant concern when Tasmania is invaded from the north by a fox.
Onionskinny by Campbell Mattinson tells a story with “intoxicating intensity” about innocence: “the most extraordinary scene developed … it would lay out a fuse to the rest of my life”.
Another highlight is Peter Goldworthy’s moving, but hard-bitten Shooting the Dog. The dog to be shot is called ‘Nigger’. A city woman is horrified not only by the dog’s name, but also the shooting. Explored is the heart-breaking dilemma that confronts farmers when their dogs turn rogue.
The Enemies of Happiness by Tim Richards is about the most unusual school imaginable – and it’s very disturbing.
Murray Bail writes Camouflage, the story of a piano tuner who finds it difficult to be close, even to his own family, but unexpectedly ends up finding a sense of purpose in the army.
A favourable mention has to be made of Cloud Busting by Tara Jane Winch. There is a touching significance, through generations, about the “best saucepans in the land”.
This compilation brought a mixture of laughter, grief, disquiet and an opportunity to reflect. Australia’s short story writers are not an endangered species.
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.