Book Review: Here Until August by Josephine Rowe

 This review originally published on the AU review on 10 October 2019

Here Until August
Josephine Rowe
Black Inc, 2019

Josephine Rowe‘s newest collection of short stories, Here Until August is a slim but beautiful looking collection. It’s striking blue and purple cover makes you want to pick it up. And you should, because what is inside is just as fascinating as out.

It begins with the story “Glisk” (winner of the 2016 ABR/Elizabeth Jolley Prize) which is about two brothers who reunite in their small town, many years after a tragic accident has forced one of them to leave. Rowe’s powerful, pared back prose and striking metaphors evoke the nuances of the relationship between these two men– the uneasiness of siblings, the complication of loving someone who has done something awful– in an unforgettable way.

It is a startling, striking way to open a collection, and the unresolved nature of the ending, a hallmark of the Australian literary short story, leaves the reader feeling almost bereft. The worlds of Rowe’s short stories are the worlds of your neighbours, of the person driving your Uber home, of your sister, or your parent.

She renders the lives of her characters for a brief and poignant moment over and over again across this collection of stories. Other pieces that linger in my memory include “Chavez”, the story of a woman who finds an uneasy sort of routine in caring for a neighbour’s dog in the wake of grief, and “The Once-Drowned Man”, in which a taxi driver reflects on her relationship with her mother over the course of a long and strange car journey with a talkative and possibly untrustworthy stranger.

Rowe’s skill with words is such that it does not matter if she is writing in first or third person; the reader is there in the mind of her characters, and in the settings, right up until their sometimes jarring, Winton-esque endings. The stories take place all over the world and all over Australia. One takes place on a road trip from Perth to the East Coast, and gives that classic short story sense of the importance of the journey over the destination.

It is easy to see why Rowe’s work has previously been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. This is the work of an intelligent, insightful writer, and I urge you all to read it.