'The Invention of
Everyday Life', Black Pepper, 2007. ISBN 978 1 876044 56 5
a hump of land surrounded on three sides of water, runs the opening line of The
Invention of Everyday Life, describing the setting for the series of stories that
comprise Nicolette Staskos most recent novel. Well, imagine the wind as it courses
with frenetic fits and bursts and is just as readily becalmed - through the streets
and narrow alleys of the imaginery town of Dockside. Imagine the town with its sleepy
pockets of population arrested in photographic frame and detail in bedrooms and studies,
at doctors surgeries and on walks along the beach. Imagine the rise and swell of
human emotion, bubbling on occasion with warmth and joy but concentrated more ordinarily
on the humdrum realities of an existence where hope's been quenched as surely as a
candle's snuffed flame. Imagine a book of loosely-linked stories whose moody descriptive
passages are notable for their lack of a human presence and intereaction, and you have The
Invention of Everyday Life.
Slated as a
novel, its no novel in the ordinary sense of the word but a ninety-seven chapter
sketchbook - brief sketches, each no more than a page or two in length - of the daily life
of Docksides inhabitants. The overall effect achieved in these fragmentary pieces is
bleak and sombre, interspersed with an occasional ray of light. Mention is made in the
story Trawling of a fishermans daily routine, his accommodation to the
times - It is true he has to go further and further each year to catch
anything wherein life is an endless struggle to make ends meet. Theres
no contented retirement to look forward to,
no café, no bocce, no gossip or
fish stories. He will look after his grandson while his wife does the washing she takes
in. The measuring of time in this fashion surfaces again in the story The
Coming of Artichokes. Another spring they sigh, the artichokes will last maybe
a few more weeks and next year
will we be here to see the coming of
artichokes?. Stasko engages in a constant measuring of last things, invites the
corollary of measurement against our own correspondingly shortening timespans.
Yet the Italo
Calvino quotation at the beginning of the novel - Each life is an encyclopaedia, a
library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be shuffled and
reordered in every way conceivable - indicates that Staskos stories represent a
shuffling of styles and approaches and this is certainly true of the opening piece
'Geography I', wherein it rains - not cats and dogs, but fish ... more surreal than
bleak, almost suggesting this is about the surprise of life. Similarly,
Eggshells ends with the surreal, almost casual aside A man silently
beats his wife. She too is silent, taking the blows as a roof gathers rain.
The occasional story departs
from the narrative tone and voice of disinterested observer to confirm the existence
of passionate relationships and pursuits in the lives of at least some of Dockside's
inhabitants. Point of View speaks of a writer who has purchased a small
weather board cottage for the express purpose of writing his third novel This novel
is not going well although he is obsessed by it; like opening an oyster inside
pearl and ocean, outside brittle and easily chipped, tenaciously closed. While
experiencing difficulty with his work, in his personal life the writer is happy and
content. He wishes he were not so happy, so content here. He wonders why it is
difficult to write about happiness, the ordinary things. Theres a glimpse here
of what moves the individual in his ordinary pursuits and in his search for happiness.
It's in stark contrast with the majority of Staskos brief sketches wherein little
beyond the surface is revealed, where rarely is a human response occasioned or called for.
As such, the reader as observer is distanced from identification and emotional involvement
but assumes the role of witness to the unfolding trivia of daily events, invited to draw
his or her own conclusions.
- Kevin Brophy
- 'what men & women do',
stories by Kevin Brophy. Flat Chat Press, 2006
to place Kevin Brophy through the stories in his most recent collection
what men & women do. Approach from a position of familiarity with earlier
work and you run the risk of pigeonholing the writer. At their most straightforward, his
new stories sparkle with droll wit and satirical observation, entertain a realism placing
the reader fully in the frame. Not that realism is his sole signature style, for Brophy's
equally fond of the oblique approach promoting distortion, suspension of belief.
At the heart of
Brophys stories lies - as the books title suggests - the nature of
relationships between men and women. Often theyre about the transition from love to
out of love, though thats not to say the relationship ends, its more that a
transitional stage has been reached which requires navigation. Some speak of utterly
"We both said we would
never marry, not if it meant going to bed with a man like Mortein Mortin day after day,
year after year."
or hint at relationships that
never quite make the grade.
She remembers the way her
father would always bend the endings of fairy tales: "
and the prince and
princess lived relatively happily ever after," he would say, grimacing at her.
"The best anyone can hope for."
title story what men & women do is the finest of the
collection, with its finely etched sequence of events in a childs life. Brophy's
humour is impossibly contagious and underlined with a poignancy that speaks of
relationships that are never quite connected, never quite glued. An exceptional eye
and ear for detail is apparent in the following interaction between Eric, Pat and Diane,
three children who role-play setting the meal table for dinner. Eric acts out the role of
dad, late home, while Pat plays mum
over and over again, 'Where is he, he said he'd be home at six and it's after six.' Diane
sat behind a box and sang songs in a low voice. She was the wireless. After each song she
would stop and say the time. The minutes after six kept increasing. Eric was to sit
'outside' the kitchen, with his back to them. He was not to arrive until Pat had burnt the
dinner and thrown it out the window. When he was finally allowed to come in he was told to
lean against the door as though we would very soon fall over."
- a concern for what rings true - is but a facet of these stories, which elsewhere suggest
"there but for the grace of God go I". Search is the story of a
young woman who after a stint of travelling through Europe meets another young Australian
and agrees to act as a drug mule ferrying drugs back into the country.
"He mentioned a sum of
money. She was tempted - it was her chance to avoid going back to a job she didn't like.
Perhaps she would be able to study or continue to travel. The flat would be paid
ordinarily risk their future in this way? Yet jump the hurdle of one bad decision and the
reader arrives at plausibility, at identification with the drug mules fate.
plausibility takes a back seat and creativity takes control. Thanks Anthea, love
Sean tells of a man with two wives in two countries, a man whose work takes him away
for much of the year. With one wife he was a man with short hair and a clean-shaven
face, and with the other wife he had longer hair and a beard. He would go away by himself
to grow his beard and hair for two months before arriving at his other wife's home.
Apparently these two faces allowed him to keep his two lives separate in his mind."
No doubt it's a story based on fact, one imagines Brophy coming across it in a newspaper
or conversation and mentally noting its literary merit. The same story speaks of a man who
went to funerals to pick up women. 'Death and sex, this man used to say, they're made for
each other. He found women at funerals were more beautiful than anywhere else. Always
well-dressed, with shining eyes, trembling lips, their faces all vulnerability and courage
- there with the knowledge that life might pass them by. He believed funerals make us
reckless. He would go to a funeral and pretend to be an old and distant friend of the
deceased when he spoke to a woman." Unlikely behaviour to most of us, but in Brophy's
hands the characters come alive with manifest possibility. His stories throughout the
collection question issues of race, ageing, illness, depression and death (etc) with an
inquisitive and often quirky sleight of hand. In A Happy Death, the
character Andy is described as "a philosopher of sorts, or at least a provoker of
thought", and Andy could be said to describe Kevin Brophy to a tee: a gentle nurturer
of thought and ideas, of discussion and openness and inclined to curiosity about our
interactions with others.
- Brook Emery
- Uncommon Light, Five
Islands Press 2007. ISBN 978 0 7340 3762 6
- Brook Emerys writing
derives from a clear and defined space feeding, as often as not, from a political
dimension. Yet essentially its a poetry abandoning certainty for ambiguity; dogged
by doubt, raising more questions than it answers.
- I cant get my head around
it. How did we devise
- a concept like just war: the
slain of the Lord
- are dung upon the ground.
I know there are distinctions
- it is important to make and I
dont expect perfection
- but the chicanery of subtle
- The poems in Emerys new
collection extend as far back as communal memories of a Bondi adolescence in
'Thirty-six views of Bondi Beach', acknowledging relationships that clearly remain
important regardless of the passage of time. Memory is stripped bare in this
affectionately recorded recollection of shared lives and early experiences. Its narrative
qualities are elsewhere evident in poems such as Feeding Birds, which captures
the poignant image of a hand scattering bread for the gathered pigeons and gulls,
Knuckles uppermost, the hand appears / to rest on air, pivoting at the wrist as if /
he were conducting time or prolonging / a gesture of farewell.
- On other occasions, the
descriptive is a little less foregrounded. 'Landscape' skates between the defined and the
open-ended in its account of spending all day half-lost in maps'. Studying the
countryside from the cold height' of a map, trees become dots, plains dominoes, and
without an imaginative reassembling of the terrains contoured valleys, crevices and
fissures one assumes thered be few surprises in store. However,
- Do not be misled, nothing here
- is certain. The landscape is
- but somehow redolent of
- an exchange of dissembling eyes
- that misinterpret as
- Landscape pulls up
with harsh and attendant reality to the finality of Late at night // a man is bashed
by teenage boys, a girl / is lured into the bush and left to die.
- Emery's poetry is not
aesthetically difficult a concern for communication over obscuration? yet is
nevertheless demanding; the difficulty here is following the poets train of thought,
his explosion of ideas that seeks to engage a responsive, responsible readership. Many
poems are initially anchored in reality before drifting to speculation, as if to establish
a point of mutual understanding with readers before the real work of the poem begins. Few
remain purely narrative pieces, with most developing beyond the cosmetics of surface
imagery to embrace a wondrous sense of the human capacity for love and loyalty, betrayal
- Emery is in turn optimistic,
pragmatic, even fatalistic, his concerns triggers for our fears, for our strategies for
survival, our roadmaps for hope. He is confronting - teasing intellectual strands here,
fashioning connections there - and deeply personal. He questions the centre of his being:
how involved am I in matters of the world? Am I absolved from its difficulties? Absorbed
by them? Ranging from the realpolitik clearsightedness of the poems entitled
Monster (there are four) to subtly laid hints at an ambiguous presence others
might term God, Emery writes with what could be readily described as balanced
optimism. Yet he's not one to easily pin down. Who are we, beyond our mixed bag of
responses to each occasion? Does Emery cleave to hopefulness, or is his an optimism
resting within the moment?
- the world wont be a safer
or a fairer place
- our willingness to wonder and to
hurt will be the same.
- But the sea may come up and, if
- and not too afraid, we might
- against the edge of that one big
wave, cling and let go.