Margaret River Short Story Competition Anthology 2014, edited by Richard Rossiter with Susan Midalia
Margaret River Press
In a short space of time, the Margaret River anthology has gained a reputation for finding and nurturing talented Australian writers and bringing them together. This year's anthology is the third that the small press has put out. In their first collection, Things that are Found in Trees and other stories, Margaret River Press included a story by this year's Vogel Winner, Christine Piper, and judging by the breadth of talent in this year's collection, she won't be their last connection to big time publishing.
This collection of 24 stories represents less than half of all the submissions sent in by new and established short story writers. It begins with the winning story, Ruth Wyer's "The Trouble with Flying", a story about a girl named Rita who develops a stress-reaction to finishing school and applying for higher education which manifests as a fear of "putting herself down on paper." At this year's Margaret River Writers Festival, Wyer spoke of having similar feelings to her main characters when it came to writing, and her story is a realistic portrayal of working her way through this 'imposter syndrome' (as fellow writer Kristen Levitzke calls it), and adapting to new situations. The tone of the story is sombre and somewhat downtrodden, but it works beautifully, and spoke to me as a recent high-achieving graduate now living in a world with new challenges.
Award for the best title in the bunch should have gone to Lauren Foley for her story "Squiggly Arse Crack", which is a story about the disorienting feeling of being a new mum and having no time for yourself. The character oscillates between concern about the loss of her status as 'woman' and her fierce love for her child. The narrative voice in this piece is funny, matter of fact, and beautifully consistent.
Linda Brucesmith's 'Bedtime Story' is another stand-out. Told from the point of view of a small child, this story is as much about what is not being said as what is. Two sisters lie in bed one night while their parents have a dinner party. When they sneak out of their rooms, they witness their father saying something cruel to their mother, and their mother walking out. The next morning, they are told their mother is unwell and their father has taken her to the doctor. While I found some of the dialogue confusing, in particular with regards to the overheard conversation between the parents, the subtlety of the mother's apparent suicide juxtaposed nicely with childish fantasies about ghosts, and the ending left a shiver in my bones.
South West Prize winner Rachelle Rechichi's story "My House" was also told from the story of a young child, this time May, who is fighting back against her 'Homes West' upbringing and the way the other girls at school judge her for it. May is a strong character, determined to make something of herself. She protects her younger sister from her lecherous Uncle Toad, and when it is asked of her, becomes an unlikely hero, saving both Ellie and her reading book from a house fire. The voice in this story is compelling, authentic, and invokes an emotional reaction in the reader which makes them stop and think twice about judging people on appearances, especially children.
"Zone of Confidence" by Claire Aman stood out for me because of the Queensland scenery described by the narrator as she rode her partner's motorcycle along the coast, watching for his sails. She is anxious, and plagued by a feeling that the sea wants to claim him and the little boat he is bringing down the shore for a rich man who has hired him. Thought her repetition of the term 'babe' grates at first, it soon becomes a part of the rhythm of the story, and speaks of the character's fierce love for her boyfriend, and her almost lioness-like protectiveness against an anthropomorphized sea. Though her fears turn out to be unwarranted, she proves her mettle, and her worthiness of a man who never even appears on the page.
In Rosie Barter's "Grasping for the Moon", Martha takes in Tandra as a house guest, and begins to take on his Buddhist ways as a new means of falling in love. She can never fully betray herself and become fully spiritual, but her life is left enriched, and the reader is left longing to know what Tandra writes to her in his note.
"Dot's Garden" by Kristen Levitzke perfectly encapsulates the little mythologies we create in our suburban lives, both in the almost deity-like status of her characters' home's former owner, Dot, whose gardens document the changing of the seasons, and in the narratives of love that exist between long time partners. Her story draws on deep emotion to tell a tale of infidelity and of friendship and loyalty that outlives faithlessness. She uses ingenious and original methods to bring about her male character's downfall, and yet makes both he and his wife AND the other woman human. It is a true testament to the skill of the writer, and makes it no wonder Levitzke finds herself included in the anthology two years in a row.
Glen Hunting's tale of domestic habit, "Martha and the Lesters" features a host of eight legged protagonists, the understanding of which means admittance into a certain club. There are those who have met The Lesters, and those who haven't. For Roland and his landlord, Martha, the Lesters choosing to make their home with them is a kind of honour, but to outsiders, they speak of mess and despair. Will Roland and Martha be able to make the world understand, or are they, as I fear, fighting a losing battle?
The collection ends with Bindy Pritchard's aptly titled "Dying", a story which is so honest it knocks the air out of the room. When the character tells her husband that she wants him to remarry, you almost scream "No, why!" The writing in this story comes from a deep emotional space, and to describe it in one word, I would say brave. It is a perfect story to end the collection on, as it is one of the strongest pieces in the collection.
Once again, the Margaret River short story collection has unearthed an extremely entertaining collection which celebrates all that is wonderful about short fiction. You can pick this book up where good books are sold, and if you want to see the contributors read aloud from their works, please join us at Bookcaffe Swanbourne this Monday, June 2nd at 2pm. The book will be available for $24.