9780980595406, 2009, Australia
Several truly amazing, innovative and startlingly written stories are contained within the pages of The Lifted Brow No. 4. Unfortunately, there are so many stories in this issue that several ordinary, often pointless and quirk-for-the-sake-of-it ones have also snuck in, making it a bit of a treasure hunt read. The book also comes with two CDs which I admittedly haven’t listened to closely yet, but if you want value for money, there is an absolute wealth of fiction, graphic fiction, experimental forms, and poetry here.
While there are so many stories, some themes and elements pop their heads up regularly – such as lots and lots of stories with guns. There is a lot of violence and death in general. There is pessimism, absurdity, and bleakness.
I did find it refreshing to read stories in all different settings, as the Brow commissioned some of their favourite overseas writers, as well as the cream of fresh Australian voices.
My notable mentions, in order of reading them, go to Karen Russell’s sweet and well-written Cottage Gardening, about the characters at a Spanish farm where women come to heighten their fertility in a miraculous well; Christopher Currie’s absolutely charming story of a modern wannabe noir hero The Maverick; Joanna Howard’s stunning classically-influenced ocean-set prose in Troubled Waters; Ben Greenman’s mature story of an affair, through one person’s letters The Hunter and the Hunted; Hannah Pittard’s simple yet deep conversation at the end of an affair Wars & Winters; Josephine Rowe’s moments in Murder in the West Wing – she’s so good at mood, just sweeping you up in it – ‘And you feel you’re too young to feel this old’. Also John McNally’s very original, terrific voice of a town in Village Sins; and Samantha Hunt’s amazing prose, in the story of a one-time superficial affair at a trade fair Personal Growth – ‘Barbara turns to the man and through her disgust and wonder, a magnet clicks. Opposite indeed. She imagines him naked. Barbara’s blood turns liquid, robotic, sinful.’
But two stories just knocked my silver pointy-toed shoes off. Joe Meno’s No Triumphant Procession has such an appealing, stylistic sense of time, character and place. His work is rooted in reality, yet there is something fantastical and unrecognisable about it – I would almost say cartoonish, except that makes it sound as if it were one-dimensional. Instead, there are many complex layers of emotional meaning, humour, aptness. You just have to read it.
And the story that just about made my brain explode is Heidi Julavits’ Santosbrazzi Killer – an ingeniously clever, subtly poignant, perfectly formed, slightly surreal and completely original story for our times. She has gone on the sell it to American Harper’s. She deserves every success for it. Somehow she uses a kind of verbosity in her prose that absolutely works – it establishes the character’s self-important voice from the beginning. The author also makes up words, and it seems as though no other word would do – something like the ‘woggly black line someone had painted on the wall’. There is a multitude of tiny details that make up such a complex, lasting picture of the character and his world. The ‘horseshoe shaped’ bar and the ‘effect of the bottles in front of the pink lightbox was that of leftover skyscrapers silhouetted against the twilight ruins of a prettily bombed city’. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. I must give you a little bit more of a taste:
‘The day was a usual day. I arrived with my insulated travel mug filled with clearly superior off-site coffee, I stood against the sheetrock perimeter of the wall-less playpen of an office and, at moments when the action seemed most unworthy of note, jicked my ballpoint and started writing. I’d perfected the timing of my jick, and without thinking now could sense the most innocuous moment to employ the jick, thereby creating, amidst the outfit staff, a Chinese Water Torture kind of expectant dread’.
And events take a surreal (and existential) turn when he orders a cocktail called the Santosbrazzi Killer, but I won’t ruin it for you…
I should mention that this journal has so many stories as it was based on a ‘fake bookshelf’ that has a long story behind it (in Ronnie Scott’s introduction), and each of the titles in the adopted bookshelf coincide with the titles of the stories. While the collection is worth it for the treasures, I’d love to see a more selective volume next time, that gives these fresh and thoroughly enjoyable voices room to breathe, stand out, and be amongst worthy stories and peers.