Book review: New Australian Fiction 2022, edited by Suzy Garcia

A diverse yet cohesive short story collection.

Kill Your Darlings’ fourth annual anthology encapsulates the stasis-and-motion unique to our time, carefully preserving snapshots of observation, contemplation, reflection, and speculation.

There is no set theme, but this collection flows fluidly from one tale to the next, connected by a subtle yet unnameable something, but there is more than accidental cohesion at play. Suzy Garcia’s concise introduction and thoughtful arrangement serve to emphasise how elements of uncertainty link these stories. 

Perth author Elizabeth Tan kicks off the anthology with ‘The Smaller of Two Tomatoes’, in which salad is prepared and dead children wander hot suburban streets. Loss and unacknowledged grief cling to the bizarre underside of summer mundanity in Tan’s unusual tale. This is followed by Jack Venning’s ‘Goodbye to the Body’, which ups the ante as far as corpses are concerned, in a disorienting journey through dinner, karaoke, and a late night dip.

Chloe Wilson resets the narrative tone with ‘Lifestyle Creep’, which explores impermanence, status, attachment and possession in atmospheric shades befitting its title. Next, Kavita Bedford’s ‘Berchem Station’ is both savoury and claustrophobic in its concertina-treatment of time, place, and potentiality. 

Outstanding – even amongst this high calibre collection – is ‘Heat’, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, author of Foreign Soil, The Hate Race and How Decent Folk Behave. Clarke’s narrative poem, which begins with concrete heat and ends in rebellious flames, tells the story of a 12-year-old ‘buzz-cut Rapunzel’ living with her family in the Footscray Flats. Clarke’s youthful protagonist provides incidental commentary on racism, sexism, classism, objectification, and self-harm, with a gentle yet acerbic touch.

Jasmin McGaughey’s ‘Oxygen’ speaks of pain, surfing, the restorative powers of salt water. Whitney Chen’s ‘Audition’ depicts artifice, fakery and the futile lengths humans will traverse for a taste of validation.

Set in a backwater RSL, Raeden Richardson’s ‘A Quiet Word from your Local’ shines spotlights on gambling, rationalisation, and casual greed. A stalkerish take on longing and loneliness involves trapping oneself in Will Cox’s disquieting tale, ‘In the Room’. 

‘Grace’, by Melanie Seward, is distinctly Australian and painfully human, drenched in feeling and infused with country. Bobuq Sayed’s djinn mystery explores family dynamics set against a backdrop of curious everydayness; the last six lines of ‘The Spirit Realm’ should be read three times apiece. ‘The Land of Smiles’ by Nina Newcombe trades in tradition, transformation, and compromise.

A E Macleod’s understated ‘Goodbye Yimi and Yahoo, Goodbye’ will haunt environmentalists and lovers of frogs. Finally, Jacqui Davis’ ‘The Yarn Bird’, will stick in readers’ minds, hitting especially close to home for those impacted by the destructive ferocity of nature.

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These stories, told together, form a cultural consciousness comprising many minds. Fragility, ego, possession, solitude, change, hoarding, memory, and impermanence feature strongly throughout this anthology, prompting readers to reflect upon multiple layers of their own realities. As Garcia rightly asserts, we live in a time of narrative tension. Just as we are leaving behind the world we once knew for an uncertain future, so too, must the figments of our collective imaginations.

This book will resonate most with those who remember, those who collect, and those who have witnessed the world this year.

New Australian Fiction 2022 edited by Suzy Garcia
Publisher: Kill Your Darlings
ISBN: 9780645493306
Pages: 215 pp
Release Date: September 2022
RRP: $24.95

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.