Shirl (Wayne Marshall, Affirm)
Wayne Marshall’s Shirl is a collection of bizarre, consistently funny stories that delights in dismantling the tropes of Australiana. From the adventures of a bereaved yowie at a Desperate and Dateless ball, to a corporate simulation of the experience of death for those disenchanted with living, Shirl remains unpredictable and disturbing throughout. Loosely connected through a small town that is the setting for Marshall’s uniquely Antipodean dystopias, these stories reflect on sport, community and masculinity with an irony that is never entirely removed from tenderness. Though there is some recurrence of motif and theme in the collection, the stories satisfy on their individual merits. In the second part of the collection, Marshall’s experimentation with metafiction produces some of the book’s most surprisingly touching moments and creates a bridge between reality and his more fanciful scenarios. Rather than falling into the self-seriousness characteristic of writers who write about writing, in these pieces Marshall illustrates how integral storytelling is to our existence, as individuals and as a society. Though there are moments when Marshall’s ambition overreaches, Shirl is a hugely entertaining and thoughtful read that will appeal to fans of George Saunders and David Cohen.
Myles McGuire is a Brisbane-based writer and editor