Black Juice

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This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Margo Lanagan’s short story collection, Black Juice.

Lanagan’s worlds are not necessarily places you would want to visit. They are strange and often monstrous. Horrifying angels – noisy, smelly, unknowable – inhabit once place. Terrifying creatures erupt from the ground in another. Alien creatures are difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with. Humans are from worlds with different customs and understandings. And yet their values and motivations resonate with our own and makes the strangeness accessible. There is an emotional pull.

In Singing my Sister Down, probably the best known of the stories, a young boy witnesses the execution of his sister in a tar pit. Other tales: A herd of elephants journey to resuce their mahout. A girl rescues her crush, putting herself in the way of peril, only to be rejected. A travesty of a bride learns perseverance and courage. A girl buries her grandmother in a dystopian future. a boy frees himself from a brutal grandfather. Death and burial are a constant.

Each story features a wounded protagonist. The odds are often great, the possibility of success slim. Courage is the underlying theme and, for some, it is rewarded. Rite of Spring, the final story, is the most hopeful. A shining note to end the collection.

Lanagan’s writing is marvellous, sad, beautiful and tearing. She is able to paint a world through touches of phrasing and dialogue. She never explains, but somehow you know. Truly wonderful.

Women’s Work

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This is the first of my reviews for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge: Overland’s ebook Women’s Work. I will confess to a Thurber moment when first looking at this publication – the small cover graphic seemed to be a robot. Immersed as I usually am in the world of speculative fiction, I did not wonder why a literary journal would choose a robot for the cover, I just accepted it. Perhaps robots were undertaking all women’s work in the future? But, of course the illustration is not a robot, it is a women standing on a chair, bent over, her long hair hanging down and an extremely large present resting on her back. (the robot’s head in my mind!)

Women’s Work is a collection of five new short short stories by Australian women writers. Editor Clare Strahan states in her introduction that each captures “the essence of excellence in short story – the quartet of form, beauty, ease and a sense of the whole.” Each of the stories is very different, but if there is a thread that binds them it is, for me, a powerful imagery which lasts beyond the reading and, perhaps, a slight melancholy. Every reader will have their favourite, and I will not nominate one. None of the stories address that particular meaning of women’s work – domestic chores – except perhaps in passing. Instead we are given something close to fables that offer insight into the human condition.

Anne Hotta’s The Art of Ikebana describes a conscribed world in which symbol and imagination are perhaps more powerful than reality. Calving, by Georgina Luck, takes place on a wider stage, but still one that is constrained by circumstance. Its ending twists your heart. Helen Addison-Smith’s She is raw and sad, bitter and funny. A moving description of loss. Forest, by Susie Greenhill, mourns the loss of a different sort, that of the natural world, as the protagonist moves through loneliness, perhaps to madness, perhaps to another place of being. The final story, Under the Bridge by Cheryl Adam, describes a collision of worlds in which nature is likely to be the destroyer.

It was a pleasure to read each of these very different stories. If you would also like to take a look, the ebook is available at booki.sh.

Australian Women Writers

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I decided many a long month ago to take up the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Review challenge. I’ve been truly ashamed to learn how many AWWs there are, thriving and prospering, all without my knowledge and even just within the narrow confines of my first love, spec fiction.

My reading list is growing but, right now contains:

Deborah Biancotti’s Bad Power

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court Trilogy along with Love and RomanPunk

Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts

Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle

I’d also like to read some Kate Forsyth, Pamela Freeman, Kim Falconer, Robin Hobb, Kylie Chan, RJ Astruc …

I’ve begun Marianne de Pierres’ Dark Space and dipped into Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice.

I fear that my reading is so far behind that my reviews will be next to worthless, but the challenge has already proved its worth.