Born into this by Adam Thompson is a collection of short stories about Aboriginal identity in Tasmania. Adam Thompson mines the intricate relationship between place and memory in many of the stories found in Born into this, plumbing intriguing depths in short stories such ‘The old tin mine’ and ‘Honey’. In ‘Descendant’, perhaps the most powerful story in this collection, we encounter a subdued but forceful contest between powerful self-assertion and critique of identity appropriation on the one hand, and concerted resistance to this self-assertion on the other.
‘Thompson approaches identity in a nuanced and complex manner…’
Thompson inhabits a diverse range of characters, from folks who feel a strong connection to their Palawa heritage to folks who feel conflicted about their identify – and sometimes anxious about others’ claims of descendance. This strength in form explores a wide array of experiences and emotions relating to identity.
Identity conflict is never presented as a dichotomy, however. Thompson approaches identity in a nuanced and complex manner, and the inner turmoil of his very contemporary characters can’t be reduced to simplistic polarities. Thompson explores tensions underlying everyday conversations between colleagues, extraordinary disputes between school children and teachers, and unexceptional fights between estranged brothers with insight and acuity, revealing the hidden strains that imbue these interactions.
Thompson is good at exploring frustration, pain, simmering resentment and anger. Once in a while, the anger that imbues his stories boils over into rage, and sometimes this results in distinct transitions. A good example of this is the short story ‘The blackfellas from here’, in which the characters engage in a confrontational deconstruction of symbols and symbolic gestures. Unlike most other stories in the collection, which have a strong element of repressed internalised drama, this one depicts roiling externalised conflict between different characters, which progressively escalates to a point of no return. This is different to most of the book, where the strains and tensions between characters remain restrained.
In many of the stories, ordinary relationships, between lovers and family members, serve as the setting for difficult but restrained conversations about (and thoughtful reflections on) belonging, pride, shame, social fatigue and more. Thompson also occasionally uses uncanny and accidental happenings as a narrative device to bring about a resolution in conflicts, which is another way in which some stories in this collection may be distinguished from others.
‘In many of the stories, ordinary relationships, between lovers and family members, serve as the setting for difficult but restrained conversations…’
This is a book about contemporary experiences, ideas and conflicts. Even though there is a strong element of social critique throughout the work, this book is about distinct, ordinary and flawed characters and their relationships.
Thompson’s writing is very much rooted in Tasmania, and Tasmanian landscapes and social worlds are strongly present throughout the work. The publisher indicates that this work emerges from the author’s life-long immersion in the social and cultural worlds being depicted, and it offers a compelling glimpse into these worlds.
Rating: 3½ stars out of 5 ★★★☆
Born into this by Adam Thompson
Categories: Short Story Collection, Australian
Release Date: 2 February 2021