Is it a must?

'10 Short Stories You Must Read This Year'Surely there is nothing better than sitting, book in hand, in Tilley’s (for the uninitiated, one of Canberra’s most iconic and deliciously moody cafes named after the infamous Kings Cross prostitute Tilley Devine). Sunlight drips languorously through lime-coloured leaves, with the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg rising from my glass of chai. And this: 10 Short Stories You Must Read This Year. The book has sat in a pile on my bedside table gathering dust for some time. Has been passed over repeatedly in favour of other books, and all because of its title. Shouted at me in caps, it makes me wary.

But on this hazy summer afternoon I open its pages expectantly. I feel relieved to discover a few gems: Monica McInerney’s beautifully-crafted and poignant story about a woman who discovers the art of letter writing, Thomas Keneally’s about a teacher who becomes dangerously infatuated with his Sudanese student, and Jack Marx’s story written in the form of a letter from a man to his dead wife, which builds disturbingly to its bleak conclusion. But disappointingly the remaining stories, mostly dealing with matters of the heart, fail to fully engage me. Often aiming for humour, they prove to be light, easy to digest but ultimately unsatisfying and lacking in substance. The fast food of short fiction.

The book, commissioned as part of the Books Alive campaign, was distributed free during September last year (yes, it’s been gathering dust for a while) with the purchase of any book on the campaign’s list. In previous years the free book has been a short work by a single author, and while the idea to produce an anthology was a good one, for me the result falls short of the mark. And there’s the issue of that title. I expected to be dazzled with pitch-perfect prose and searing storytelling, and was left feeling cheated.

Enjoyable? Yes. A must read? Sadly, no. It’ll be interesting to see what they produce this year.

As antidote that evening I pull out my well-worn copy of Cate Kennedy’s collection, Dark Roots. A master of the short story, her prose reels me in, fills me up. I read every page gluttonously, and leave satiated. Now there’s a must read.

Irma Gold

Irma Gold is an award-winning writer and editor. Her short fiction has been widely published in Australian journals and her debut collection of short fiction, Two Steps Forward, was released in September 2011 (Affirm Press). She is also the author of two children’s books and is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Facebook.

More by Irma Gold ›

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  1. For the first time in 6 years away… I just had a split second of missing Canberra. Tilley’s is the setting in some of my semi-autobiographical work – many shenanigans had there back when they had bands on regularly.

  2. This has been in my pile for a long while too but I fear it’s going to keep getting passed over as there are so many fantastic short story collections around at the moment (the Nam Le effect?). Text has Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy coming in May and just released Andrew Porter’s The Theory of Light and Matter, Scribe has If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black coming in June, plus there’s Peter Goldsworthy’s new collection, AND the just-launched Kill Your Darlings with lots of new fiction in it… not to mention Overland itself of course!

    We reported on the new-look Books Alive recently (it’s going to be called ‘Get Reading!’ from here on in), and they’re doing another short story collection as the giveaway book this year, so it’ll be interesting to see who’s included this time around. (For my money they should get Charlotte Wood to edit it–loved the Brothers & Sisters collection she put together last year.)

    1. I agree, Brothers and Sisters is achingly good, and Charlotte Wood would definitely be a good choice for editor. But whoever’s at the helm, it will be very interesting to see how the next one compares.

      Overall it’s heartening that short fiction seems to be regaining some level of popularity with publishers. I’d still love to see more making it onto the shelves though. In particular, I wish mainstream publishers would take more risks on collections by talented emerging authors. But that’s opening up a whole other debate…

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