Dark as Last Night (Tony Birch, UQP)
It’s a deceptively simple premise: two young brothers bond over a newfound love of bike riding. But as ‘Bicycle Thieves’ unfolds, a sweet yet dark and sorrowful undercurrent starts to make itself known. This is a recurrent mood throughout Dark as Last Night, Tony Birch’s newest short story collection. Each tale packs a different kind of punch, with Birch immediately immersing the reader into the lives of his characters. He moves seamlessly between different eras and age groups, whether it’s a family man living with the impotent dread of knowing his neighbour will soon be killed, or a young girl yearning to help set up the church nativity scene. Birch’s clear eye for detail, as well as for darkness and quirk of character, shines through at every turn. While the endings of some of the stories seem to arrive quite suddenly, this ties in with the slice-of-life feeling that the stories invoke—real life so rarely offers tidy endings, so how can hyper-realistic fiction hope to end neatly? The stories are tied together with the repeated themes and images of bullying, broken people, power imbalance, loss of loved ones and children taking on adult responsibility, with the strongest pieces being those that focus in on the complexity of sibling relationships. Readers who liked Birch’s The White Girl or Josephine Rowe’s Here Until August will find much to appreciate in Dark as Last Night.
Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and editor.