Rebecca Starford (ed.)
New Australian Fiction 2019
Within the pages of the first short-fiction collection from Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, we are transported to a series of engrossing micro-worlds. Editor Rebecca Starford writes in the introduction that “stories offer a way to explore the most urgent issues of our time”. Indeed, these 18 stories are tied to the concerns of 2019, from the everyday to the more abstract and unabashedly political.
Laura Elvery’s stunning “Something Close to Gold” is the highlight of the collection, following a couple discovering a baby on a beach and, through a wildlife-like hotline, adopting and then losing her. The story speaks to the wanting and turbulence of parenthood, the sorrow of loss, and the detachment of modern life. Elvery sucks us into this strange world and makes it feel utterly believable.
There are other moments of brilliance: in “Flight”, Tony Birch writes with beautiful control that feels also languid, capturing the loss of naivety as a boy strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly man who teaches him to fly a kite. Wayne Marshall’s “The Hearing” has a delicious build-up of suspense, as we follow a protagonist being sentenced to death for a crime that is not revealed until the end, turning a sharp eye towards our culture of gendered toxicity. In “A Still Thing Shaken”, Jack Kirne, one of the best emerging writers in Melbourne, writes of a lost season and relationship long ago – keen readers will recognise the character Tan from another of his stories, creating an intertextual patchwork. And Laura Elizabeth Woollett channels Jeffrey Eugenides in “Physical Education”, displaying her trademark flair for writing around the edges of relationships fraught with troubling power dynamics.
As with many anthologies, some pieces are much stronger than others. Elsewhere in the collection, experimentation falls flat, and one particular story told exclusively from the male gaze feels insular and tired.
Although the collection sometimes meanders, what ties it together is how these stories examine the uncertainty of the human condition, often through dystopian lenses. In our current troubled times, with the climate emergency reaching new heights, and politics resembling an Orwell novel, life seems more bizarre than ever. Like the best short fiction should, these stories leave room for interpretation, and echo the despair of the modern age while still providing a glimmer of something close to hope.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen
Kill Your Darlings, 240pp, $24.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 7, 2019 as "Rebecca Starford (ed.), New Australian Fiction 2019". Subscribe here.