The Butcherbird Stories (A S Patric, Transit Lounge)
Most readers may associate A S Patric with his Miles Franklin-winning novel Black Rock White City, but he has previously released three collections of short fiction. His latest is quietly unnerving, building subtle trapdoors into mundane slices of life. The shorter pieces often brandish a simple hook in the first paragraph, whether it’s an unpredictable ex spicing up an engagement party or a severed digit spotted in a swimming pool. Others introduce some low-key absurdity, such as Frank Sinatra’s anachronistic turn in ‘The Rothko’. However placid a story’s surface might seem initially, Patric is usually working towards something more complicated. Blurring the lines between essay and fiction, ‘Punctuated Air’ unpacks the changing experiences of Australian immigrants while saluting the science-fiction section at a child’s local library. ‘Memories of Jane Doe’ braids a dark contemporary fairytale out of toxic masculinity, while the bleak novella ‘Among the Ruins’ investigates the men who arrest Josef K at the start of Kafka’s The Trial. Another novella, ‘The Flood’, lingers over the defensive disconnect between strangers in the café-crowded landscape of Melbourne’s suburbs. While these stories tend to resist tidy resolution, Patric exposes the worrisome loose ends of daily life with unusual clarity. This collection should be an offbeat treat for fans of the short story.
Doug Wallen is a freelance journalist, copywriter and editor