Have you heard of Cate Kennedy? She wrote the short story ‘Habit’ which has more than one veiled meaning. The plot is about the experience of a dying character who adopts a master disguise to smuggle cocaine using an ingenious manuevere. Torn between the remainder of life left and the dilemmas imposed by an impulsive choice, the protagonist throws caution to the wind to face a massive risk and succeeds.
The gender of the main character remains ambiguous to the reader and contributes to the sly tone satire peppered through the narrative but the voiced internal thought process gives us some insight. Clever phrases are interspersed within the tale which make plenty of sense when the disguise used to conceal her true intentions is finally revealed. It is clear Cate Kennedy has used creative writing techniques in a skilled fashion to craft the plot and is fully deserving of the regard she has attained.
The author of Habit also has the following advice about distractions caused by the Internet for aspiring writers. You can read it here at Overland’s blog. But Jo Case warns you to not go to Luddite extremes either by reflecting on her own blog writing experience here. With that I bring my week of highlighting Australian short stories to a close.
‘Wedding’ by Glenda Adams is a short story about the fatality of incompatibility. The main character looks forward to marital bliss with her chosen life partner and takes it upon herself to be selective in her choice of negligee for the wedding night. But the dialogue around her, even on her wedding day, includes all but the bride herself. It is unclear whether her husband truly loves her or not but it is clear marriage does not grant her entrance into his world of intellectuality.
You cannot help but feel sorry for the story’s protagonist who is uncertain about the conversational duties of a wife, feels everything she does not go quite as planned and finds winning affection from her husband on her honeymoon a daunting task. Her dress is lost during travel, her wedding cake is ruined and the fault line is repaired with a border of funeral flowers while her lover prefers to watch Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff rather than get busy.
The first line of the story makes you hope her sweet, girlish dreams come to fruition. Anticipation is slowly built up when things keep going wrong but its turning point leaves you deflated in defeat. Yet the writing by Glenda Adams is superb in keeping you hooked through all the pages till the very end.
Thea Astley’s short story ‘Coming of Age’ subtly evokes the feelings felt by a girl who is bridging the gap between the preteen years into adolescence. It starts out with a narrative of a playful childhood spent outdoors with the family where she hangs on trees, upside down, wearing no more than a navy skirt and an embroidered red sweater, and observes her parents and their peace shattering spats.
She amuses herself with strange pursuits such as reading life histories of those in graves in cemeteries, skidding down an ancient canon in Newstead Park or taking pride in sinking the gun Oronsay not too far from the mouth of Breakfast Creek. Being incredibly perceptive, she realises her parents live in strained harmony as they whisper things far from pleasant to each other in acid tones and simple arguments escalate.
Her main focus though is on a day at Newstead Park that has been ingrained in her memory. Her parents are fighting yet again trying to conceal the fact but even though she is only twelve, she realises a truce is needed between the warring factions. In her innocence, she makes a display of acrobatics as a diversionary tactic. This backfires spectacularly when her mother beckons her and delivers an embarrassing blow with one simple line which ensures that she will never climb trees again.
Larissa Behrendt is a Eualeyai and Kamillaroi woman who decided to become a lawyer at the tender age of eleven when her Indigenous father found his mother’s removal certificate. This poignant and touching story titled Home about Garibooli, a naive young Aboriginal girl who is displaced from her society to an alien Western world, tells us subtly how advantage is taken of her childhood innocence.
Garibooli, after being taken from her people is put to work in the mansion of the Howard family under the name, Elizabeth . The domestic servitude encumbered upon her during her youth is exploitation enough but worse follows when Mr. Howard begins to pay her flattering attention. Her ignorance and lack of education makes the resulting consequences ultimately tragic.
The story is interspersed with comparisons of Indigenous traditions and Western culture. Highlighted is the friendship between Xiao-ying Chan (Helen Chan to white people) and Garibooli (Elizabeth to white people), her cordial relationship between the strict but kindly housekeeper Miss Grainger and the perpetual annoyance of Mrs Howard when she tries her best striving to get praise for a job well done. Imposition of barriers created by the inability to communicate is well articulated within this tale. The author neatly ties in the impact inflicted on Garibooli by the separation from her family through indicating her conflicting desire to please the Howard household while showing her discontent through nostalgic, contemplative reflections.
The story appears to indirectly comment on the plight segregation had forced on the protagonist since in Australia, similar conditions were faced by many other young Aboriginal girls when oppression against the indigenous people were rife. Prejudice held against this native community has lessened considerably with the passage of time and the public apology but politics and the current legal system still has a big part to play in improving conditions for our indigenous citizens. If you did not know about the Stolen Generations, you might find some enlightening information within this fact sheet.
I have discovered short stories are something I put by the wayside unless they are the sort written by Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer. Thinking it is time I should end this discrimination against the poor genre which is overlooked, I have opened myself to reading and reviewing an Australian short story per day for just this week. We will see how long I manage to keep it up!
The Sandfly Man by Matthew Condon is a short story about convictions that spring up and take precedence in the innocence of childhood; he expresses with convincing imagery of the pesticide man of the park how fears that inspire terror from back then can remain with us until our transition into adulthood. His reflective glimpses of how mundane our life can be in the world of the beach caravan park as a home away from home is insightful in its banality.
Queensland in his idyllic narrative setting of Tallebudgera Creek Caravan Park is described so well you cannot help but feel through how he radiates the hot, sticky feeling of summer and the pleasure evoked through moments at the Burleigh Heads beach in adolescence, that it is being conveyed by a native. It is an odd contrast when he details the pleasure of his parents and their friends in a simple game of canasta while he lies in abject terror of his conception of the Sandfly Man. This figure which has arrested his imagination causes him to fear it far more than the fearsome combination of the ‘government, devil and God all rolled into one’.
In its conclusion, we are left to contemplate the inability of the author to return to the caravan park even though his sister does. The family tradition is carried out by his sister after she had kids herself since she forages out her own caravan park space and the card playing scenario continues with a younger generation in her circle of family friends; but the author is an outsider who sits by himself in the lounge on Christmas morning watching television. The door to the past is not open to him.
The fear of the ghost of the Sandfly Man with his swirling mist is still to elude our writer.