Books

Josephine Rowe
Here Until August

The short story has enjoyed a well-earned rise in prestige in recent years. The most interesting stories often beguile the reader by hovering over a single effect, bringing it to life through a freshness of prose style, economical patterning, and a sudden flash of understanding experienced by the characters. There is no room to ramble. Josephine Rowe’s fifth book, Here Until August, is just such a collection of brilliantly realised short fiction. Set in a number of places across the world, from Western Australia to the Catskills Mountains of New York, the stories in this collection are interwoven with themes of excavation and salvage, of destruction and glimpses of redemption, as characters thrust themselves towards ever-receding horizons.

The narrator of the opening story, “Glisk”, is a participant-witness in an unfolding chain of events. Although the story is spread across a number of years, the pace never lags, because of Rowe’s virtuosic command of structure. Her work demonstrates, with perfectly placed insertions of memory and contemporary observations, how little information one needs to reveal for the reader to understand the devastating implications of a story.

In “The Once-Drowned Man”, class insecurities play out subtly yet strongly, as power keeps shifting between the two characters in the story – a cab driver and a passenger. There is trust there, perhaps misplaced, perhaps rewarded; we are never quite sure. As with the other stories in the collection, we have the opportunity to lose ourselves in the silences of the work, and to arrive at our own place of clarity.

“Post-Structuralism for Beginners” is a darkly funny yet tragic exploration of agency in a long-term relationship. In this story, focalised through Johanna, a VHS tape becomes a literal and metaphorical repository of memory and potential. Like Johanna, many of Rowe’s characters are propelled forward while, sometimes unknowingly, being pinned to their past. They reach for solidity but are often met only with precariousness. This meditation upon our uncertainty and unease resonates with the incisive work of Elizabeth Tan and Jennifer Down, and with the unflinching acuity of the great Alice Munro. Here Until August is a superb collection, pared back, astute, yet brimming with life and love and expectation.

Roanna Gonsalves

Black Inc, 208pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 5, 2019 as "Josephine Rowe, Here Until August". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: Roanna Gonsalves