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The Waterfowl Are Drunk! (Kate Liston-Mills, Spineless Wonders)

Kate Liston-Mills’ debut collection of fiction is an astute, often moving study of three generations of a small-town family. Set in the author’s native Pambula in regional NSW, it captures the idiosyncrasies of rural life, using colloquialisms to render a complex portrait of outwardly simple stories. The book’s structure is somewhere between a novel and a collection, with each of the stories interconnected and unfolding in mostly chronological order. Liston-Mills’ main preoccupation is vulnerable children—from the cygnets devoured by a fox at the book’s outset, to Lottie, born with Down Syndrome, who grows to become the moral centre of her family. With Lottie as the book’s focal point, Liston-Mills is able to demonstrate the fluidity of relationships over time, exploring the space between carer and cared-for, parent and child, love and resentment. The premature death of the book’s most prominent male character means these are essentially female relationships, which are nuanced and evolving constantly. Liston-Mills’ prose style is low-key Australian minimalism—‘clackers’ and ‘cuppas’ abound—and if anything the book suffers from an excess of restraint. Reminiscent of Murray Middleton’s When There’s Nowhere Else to Run and Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, The Waterfowl Are Drunk! is a promising debut.

Myles McGuire is a writer and bookseller at Riverbend Books


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