The writing program at the University of Technology Sydney, has an outstanding reputation for producing talented writers: alumni include Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears and Anna Funder. This most recent student anthology, Strange Objects Covered with Fur, will only enhance the program’s prestige.
The beginning is exceptionally strong. In “The Dog”, by Mark Rossiter, three young British backpackers travel around Greece only one step ahead of misfortune. It’s nostalgic and tense, a gorgeous window into a boy’s changing relationship with the world. In S. J. Cottier’s elegant “Golden Repair”, Kana considers her Japanese heritage as she travels to a holiday island to meet her scuba-diving husband after they’ve suffered a tragedy. They “…found a string of idyllic beaches where the wind didn’t blow and delicate gum trees ringed the shore like lace. The sea was as still as glass, and rose up their bodies like a silken belt as they entered the water.” Kana’s tranquillity is beautifully rendered, and doesn’t last.
Among the best are two energetic stories that stand apart from the others in tone. “The Buzzing”, by Harriet McInerney, plays with voice in a clever, engaging way that isn’t at all tricky, while Emma Rose Smith’s “The Secretions” is creepy and wild and crying out to be developed into a science fiction novel.
While the short fiction, screenplays and poems sit well together, I found the inclusion of what are presented as nonfiction stories jarring at first. This isn’t the fault of the writing: I found “The Art of Fair Isle Knitting”, by Grace Barnes, about the Shetland Islands and the locals’ distinctive knitwear, to be memoir/essay at its best, and “Boxing with Bob at Millers Point”, by Blue Lucine, reads as vivid and brave investigative journalism that would hold its own in The Monthly. Instead, my problem was the mindset I’d brought to an anthology otherwise devoted to creative writing. Is everything here fiction, or can I believe the nonfiction works?
Of course, not every story is a winner. Restraint takes practice and sometimes unnecessary drama takes over, but emerging writers don’t have a monopoly on that. Some pieces are too prosaic or too obvious. There are fewer experimental and genre pieces than might be expected in a student anthology. These are minor criticisms, though, considering the ambition and originality of the work throughout. This is as good an anthology as you’ll read this year. LS
Xoum, 304pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 11, 2015 as "Various, Strange Objects Covered with Fur ".
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