Walleah Press

Famous Reporter 41 : July 2010



Famous Reporter 41





Molly Guy’s story collection Reading Between the Lines
(Ginninderra Press, 2009)

Some of you this evening will remember Australian Short Stories, which used to be published by Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Hughes. It would arrive four times a year and its contents pages read like a who’s who of Australian literary fiction writers. It often included well-known Tasmanian storywriters such as Barney Roberts, Elizabeth Dean, Geoff Dean, G. W. (Smokey) Robinson and Giles Hugo. And among these luminaries was Molly Guy.

I can still remember receiving issue 3 of Australian Short Stories in 1983 and finding Molly’s story ‘On hearing you tan in the snow, too…’ sandwiched between stories by Archimede Fusillo and Frank Hardy. In those days I knew Molly slightly through FAW and I marvelled that this small, delicate-looking, reclusive young woman had such a wicked way with words.

Then in 1989 in issue 28 of Australian Short Stories, this time between Gillian Mears and Janine Burke, Bruce Pascoe published nine connected vignettes that were the beginning of Molly’s novel-in-progress Brain Death Capital. Bruce Pascoe published this book in 1991.

Molly moved to the Tasman Peninsula and from there her next book of stories Terminal Velocity was taking shape. She had continued to have stories published widely – for instance in the FAW’s sell-out 1990 anthology Storyline, in Australian Short Stories while it was still in existence, in Island, Overland and Southerly.

Terminal Velocity was published by Interactive Press in 2003 and was launched here in Hobart Bookshop. Some of us here probably haven’t seen Molly since then – as I said earlier, she is reclusive. But she’s also a dedicated writer and has been beavering away down there at Eaglehawk Neck, working on the stories in this latest collection from Ginninderra Press, Reading Between the Lines. It contains 35 stories of varying lengths (a few ultra micro) and with some intriguing titles such as ‘More Lost Sock Laundrette’, ‘Meeting Margaret (Scott)’, ‘Zoloft’, ‘Neoprene’, ‘The Ugly Duck Café’ and ‘Men I’ve Met/Heard of Named John’.

For people who don’t know Molly’s work, I’d like to read some comments other writers have made about it. I assume it was Bruce Pascoe who wrote of Brain Death Capital:

This inventive Tasmanian novelist satirises the night and day life of the Apple Isle in this rollicking and irreverent satire of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and dogs. If you can imagine the ‘Dharma Bums’ on the road to Hobart you get the idea.

Blurbs on the back of Terminal Velocity read:

These pieces are a quirky crop. Molly Guy brings together wittily observed reality and her own brand of magic to deliver some revelatory accounts of life beyond the comfort zone. The energy she creates sheds light on misfits struggling in a nightmare world, and puts the heat on the indifferent, the hypocritical and the smug. – Margaret Scott

Then David Owen writes:

Deadpan to the nth, ‘Terminal Velocity’ delivers line after line that’s as good as any contemporary stand-up, is as clever as early Woody Allen, as inventive as Russell Hoban, as off-the-wall as Richard Brautigan. Best of all it’s top class Australian fiction.

And in Famous Reporter, Philomena Van Rijswijk wrote:

At times, one suspects that it is not a book at all, but perhaps a crocheted d’oily studded with beer tabs or a polystyrene model of the Taj Mahal. Molly Guy breaks every written and unwritten rule of fiction. Fiction Schmiction! I loved it.

I draw your attention to Philomena’s words on this latest book of stories – and I’d like to give you some morsels of Molly’s writing from it. For instance, on page 15 in ‘Arrhythmia’ she tells us:

Love makes the world go round. As well it leaves chaos and rancour in its wake. She wouldn’t be without rancour or chaos for quids. When you were hopping mad, you knew for certain you were alive, and kicking still.

As a now-elderly parent, I found myself identifying to a certain extent, and rather uncomfortably, with the mother in ‘Cord’. I found these words on page 22 particularly chilling:

It’s a Rottweiler-eat-chihuahua world where only the fittest survive and at the first hint of mechanical failure/dementia you abandon your wheels, job, pet, partner, parent. You shop for a new lover, sugar mummy, Porsche, penthouse pet.
          Doesn’t his mother know anything!
          Had nobody ever thought to tell her the facts of life?

In the story ‘Cement’, Rowena lives with her husband and three children named Dougal, Duncan and Hamish in honour of their dead Scottish grandfather. Their house was once part of a battery chicken farm and the yard consists of layers of compacted fowl manure, which the boys dig up to use as building materials. So far they’ve built a chicken-shit Guggenheim museum, a couple of chicken manure four-wheel drives and a dog kennel. The last structure is for the family’s Irish wolfhound Nessie, who gives it a wide berth.

Molly tells us on page 40:

Duncan and Dougal particularly are very interested in forensic pathology. They’re interested in how long ittakes a dysfunctional family to get its shit together – a mother to get over the death of a parent. Will it be months or years before their dad is completely bald? Will he still be lovable when his head looks like an eyeball?

But, going back to page 28, in ‘Owls’ we meet Carmel who’s a busybody, a snoop, a voyeur, an eavesdropper, a sticky-beak, and a peeping tom.

We meet Carmel again on the next page in the title story ‘Reading Between the Lines’. I’m going to read that to you. But don’t become restive; it consists of one 14-word sentence that isn’t, strictly speaking, a sentence at all:

                                        Reading Between the Lines
    Carmel sitting in the dark in an art house cinema having a sub-titled experience.

How micro is that?

What you are pondering what film Carmel might be watching, I’ll declare Reading Between the Lines launched and while we have Molly here in Hobart, I invite her to read to us.

Robyn Mathison
November 24th 2009