Review – Edible stories: Wetink
Issue 18

Wet Ink Issue 18Someone once said that an artist’s job is to hold the attention of an audience for as long as they require it. It may have been Oscar Wilde, but this reviewer suspects it was actually a character in The West Wing. Perhaps it was a character in The West Wing quoting Oscar Wilde – either way, it is a very sharp observation, particularly when applied to short fiction.

Issue 18 of the Australian quarterly Wet Ink is devoted largely to short fiction, with only three works of poetry. Short stories presented in a magazine format are tricky things. The challenge of holding a reader’s attention is made greater because of the flicking impulse: the thumb which lurks around the edge of the pages, ready to flick the moment the reader’s attention is swayed. Indeed, to borrow the wise words of Sally Field in Forest Gump, a collection of short stories is like a box of chocolates: so many tantalising options.* If one has a taste and finds they have struck a pineapple cream rather than a praline, they are free to abandon the enterprise and choose another treat. (This is less socially acceptable with chocolates.) Which only tempts the question: ‘Is Wet Ink full of pralines or pineapple creams? Com’on missy, stop stuffing your face with chocolates in the name of research, and tell us if we should buy it!’

Well, dear Overlander, as with the chocolates, so much comes down to personal taste. The editors’ note introduces the collection by stating that ‘a good story chooses its moment, revolves around indelible characters, and startles us with insights into the way we live’. The writing is sound and the short length of the pieces is well suited to coping with the flicking impulse. The moments chosen for some though, seemed a little predictable. It’s a stretch to say that girl meets boy/girl and they have/think about sex is a startling insight into the way we live, yet the five stories that hover around this premise remain well-written (if at times ‘artfully confusing’). The majority of the themes are relational and domestic, which is perhaps reflective of the themes currently dominant in Australian literature – as a result, it’s the stories which diverge from these themes that stand out.

The mark of a truly excellent short story has to be the repeat effect. Unlike with a curry, this is a highly desirable characteristic and Amelia Hearn’s ‘Zip®’ – featuring teleporting sneakers and the abuse of penguins – has it. The ingredients sound kooky, but the effect is an unsettling hypothesis of where our indulgent society may be heading. The story continued to pop into this reader’s head for days afterward. Other noteworthy pieces are Pip Harry’s ‘Onsen’ and Palve Radonic’s ‘d’Arfique’. On the poetry side of things, ‘Anatomy of a Car Crash’ by Adam Formosa had this poetry-phobe captivated by its potency.

For an issue distinguished by ‘a larger than normal number of short stories’, it seems a little odd that the featured interview is with poet Thomas Shapcott. There are so many brilliant and prolific writers of Australian short fiction that it seems like an opportunity lost not to interview one for this issue. (Keep in mind, though, that this reader has admitted to being a poetry-phobe.) This aside, Wet Ink continues to publish quality new writing, which – while not always startling – is rarely dull.

Claire Zorn

Claire Zorn is a Sydney-based writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in various literary journals and she has a particular passion for writing young adult fiction.

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