Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The Butcherbird Stories


I very much enjoyed these Euro-Australian short stories, with an author A. S Patrić born in the former-Yugoslavia, and bringing to his fiction not only the ‘outsider’ perspective on Australian culture, but the alienation of Kafka, and something of the hard-edge of Raymond Carver.
‘Memories of Jane Doe’ could be a Carver story, or else Richard Ford – and yet sadly (thematically) also straight out of the Australian news. ‘Doe’ deals with the disappearance of a young European dreamer at the hands of a violent chef, with a wry and sad comment on a restaurant-owner who might turn a blind eye to preserve her business.
‘Among the Ruins’ sounds like Borges, but is the ‘backstory’ of one of the men who arrest Joseph K in Kafka’s The Trial, and here we are in European territory. This movement of sensibilities and styles intrigues me very much.
In ‘The Flood’ a self-educated European-Australian taxi driver takes an older man for a drive in his taxi, with suitcases and an ‘outmoded code of civility’ (European?). ‘The Bengal Monkey’ sees an Australian (Clara) back home but with her travels laid embarrassingly bare by her wayward ex-traveller boyfriend. In short – these are Australian stories but with the constant presence of elsewhere woven into their very fabric.
I don’t want to go too much further with a collection of stories – reviews tend to give away the punchlines and the leave the reader wanting less. So, just one or two more things to say. A quotation from ‘The Flood’:
‘Do you remember the first time someone showed you a picture of the planet and told you that’s where you live? … At some point you realise that there’s a layer of gases drifting over a vast mass of moving rock, trapped in an orbit around the sun. What we’re part of is an incredibly think membrane really, when you take in the size and density of everything else trapped by the same star. So it still feels precarious …’ (219).
In the previous story ‘Punctuated Air’, a migrant remembers his childhood in an outer-Melbourne suburb, and a fascination he had for a while with space and science-fiction. The story ends with this beautiful sentence: ‘When I put my ear to that white balloon I can still hear the lullaby of a vanished world’ (186). Putting these two images together, we have a fragile world, with stories of other places existing in a thin membrane, as paddocks fill with houses and migrants take on ‘makeshift names’(181) and their children know only patches of their language. The stories are tough, in a good way, disturbing but grounded in human experiences of love and family. A. S. Patrić is an authentic writer among the ruins.    

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