Books

Laura Elvery
Trick of the Light

Four privileged Year 12 students are preoccupied with their upcoming formal and the new ice-cream place they want to try, when their art teacher gives them life-changing advice. “No need to play nice all the time,” she tells them. It resonates, and the girls embark on a daring act of civil disobedience that marks their glorious coming of age better than any dance could.

This happens in “La Otra”, contained in Trick of the Light, the delightful debut story collection from Brisbane writer Laura Elvery. “La Otra” is surprising, but not in a forced “trick ending” way: instead it feels driven by an inventive curiosity. If these particular characters were to be put in this precise and unusual situation, what would happen?

Each of Elvery’s 24 stories has this same unpredictable quality. In “Replica”, a disenchanted gift-shop worker compares both the cost of the exclusive collectors’ items she sells with their real-world value (“I mean, £36,000 is the annual salary listed on Monster.co.uk for a West End executive assistant at a Totally Unique Accounting Firm That Works Hard and Plays Harder”) and the significance of death in art with death in reality. In “Mountains Grow Like Trees”, a woman borrows a couple’s weekender to get some work done and is alone, isolated and out of mobile range when she’s interrupted by an odd girl who claims to be the mistress of the husband – but someone is lying. In “Fledermaus”, a mentored talented drama student attains a place in an exclusive school. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime until she grasps that the private space she relies upon to craft a performance is incompatible with the reality of living with other people. “Before university she’d never noticed,” Elvery writes, “but now Marlee was aware of a seam in her mind that let the noise in.”

A number of Elvery’s stories revolve around the role of art and the work of history, and frequently characters dare to do something that catapults them out of their foreseeable orbit. The feeling of being subjected to another’s attention, also, is frequently important: this appears as the conclusively rejected male gaze in “La Otra” and the psychic intrusions that derail Marlee the acting student. A complex emotional intimacy is present in all of Elvery’s stories, but it’s her inventive characters meeting original circumstances that makes Trick of the Light that rare thing: a page-turning short fiction collection.  LS

UQP, 272pp, $22.95

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 24, 2018 as "Laura Elvery, Trick of the Light ". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: LS