A Lovely and Terrible Thing (Chris Womersley, Picador)
A Lovely and Terrible Thing is novelist Chris Womersley’s debut short story collection, and his first book since 2017’s City of Crows. Of the 20 stories in the collection, 17 have been previously published in places such as Meanjin, The Big Issue and Granta over the past 15 years, while three stories appear in print here for the first time. Each story is loosely connected by the theme of water, and the book is marketed towards fans of the ‘macabre’ and ‘unexpected’, tropes that traditionally interrogate the world around us. However, this particular collection is more concerned with nostalgia, and how strange events shape memory. Many of the stories are set in summer, 1980s Melbourne, and explore youth—full of Pink Floyd and Brian Eno records and romanticised, drug-hazed encounters—as well as the dark side of parenthood. Unfortunately, the ‘unexpected’ element often feels expected, and in many of the stories the twist is relegated to the very end, often the final paragraph. Consequently, the stories sometimes feel unfinished, with purple prose taking up valuable space that could have been used to drive the narrative and develop the characters. Fans of Womersley’s might prefer his work in novel form, where he has the room to explore ideas to their full potential.
Kelsey Oldham is assistant editor of Books+Publishing