2014, 265 p.
She’s good. Very good.
Maxine Beneba Clarke is described in the afterword as a “spoken word performer” and the author of several poetry collections. You can tell. There’s a real joy in the sound of voices in this book, and it comes through loud and clear. Voices plural because there’s multiple narrative voices here from all over the world: a Sudanese woman in Footscray in ‘David’ ; a Jamaican school girl in suburban Australia herself fighting for acceptance being asked to “look after” a new Vietnamese student in ‘Shu Yi’ ; Delores in New Orleans in ‘Gaps in the Hickory’ and, most challengingly, Nathaniel speaking in Jamaican patois in ‘Big Islan’ as he gropes towards literacy and awareness of a larger world.
I sometimes find when I come to the end of a book of short stories that I can’t quite remember what happened in which book. That’s not the case here. She uses imagery so well in ‘ The Stilt Fishermen of Kathauluwa’ that the story is unforgettable, and it is one of the most powerful stories about so-called ‘illegals’ that I’ve read. The young girl hanging upside down from the monkey bars, paralysed with fear in ‘The Sukiyaki Book Club’ is a memorable image for the writer herself, writing on despite one rejection letter after another. The cold fear in ‘Foreign Soil’ as an Australian woman realizes her mistake in following the man she loved to Uganda is almost palpable. I just loved ‘Gaps in the Hickory’ even though I guessed the ending- and what a satisfying ending it is! There’s not a single story here that falls flat. They’re all well-crafted, opening up possibilities and yet leaving you in no doubt as a reader that you’ve reached the end. Her observations are sharp and her ear for language acute.
Blurbs often trumpet things like “the arrival of a major new voice” and the blurbs on this book are no exception. I think, this time, they’re right.
Posted on the Australian Women Writers Challenge. And so far, my pick for the 2015 Stella Prize.