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Emerge (New Australian Writing)

Phillip Edmonds, Dominique Wilson (eds)

She would be celibate for months and then snap-ping!-she would set out on a veritable rampage of romping and rooting that left the rest of us feeling pallid and puritan. And bored."

Reviewed by Julia Bohanna

Emerge is a book that made me think of a glistening newborn creature, damp diaphanous wings drying in buttery sunshine. It was all the more exciting for that fledging status. 

What are the defining qualities of an Australian voice? If Peter Carey and Germaine Greer are good examples, I expected boldness, earthiness and verve. On the whole, this was the case. The editors admitted that the quality varies, but that each story merits its inclusion in the book. It is true that the writer’s Holy Grail – the power to create resonance – is absent in some of the stories. Some do not quite satisfy, being more like glimpses through an open window, or portfolio character studies. There is also a reliance on using the death of a character as the big pay off, or drugs to make the story edgy and modern. 

Despite some common themes, there is enough diversity of subject matter and strong narrative to make the book compelling. One of the most tender is Jasmine Marie Adam’s A Complete Breakfast, where a gay Anglo-Indian girl avoids "coming out" to her parents. It is exquisitely and sensitively constructed: as the parents welcome their daughter’s "friend," we see the sensual layered details of the two girls’ intense passion for one another. This echo of forbidden sex trapped with its heart beating in this quiet domestic setting is fascinating. 

Emmett Stinson’s Laughing at the Holocaust is the stand out story of the collection: after a provocative title and equally challenging first paragraph, the story swerves into dark territory as we are taken deep into the tragedy of a young man’s terror, isolation and dysfunctionality in an increasingly hostile world. I reread this story several times with huge admiration for the courageous intellect of the writer and I was not surprised to learn that he has won awards. This is how to achieve resonance. 

All the writers had something interesting to say: although Angela Trevithick’s This House is not quite as sinister as it might have been, there is a touch of the Angela Carter to the tale that makes it attractive. Alvin Bautista’s Reciprocal Hatred is short but fluent in its message of bile and justified fury. 

I thought that the editors had made an error by putting two very similar stories side by side. Calling Back and Moving On seem superficially to both be about loving an addict – one a relative of an alcoholic, the other an admirer of a glamorous junkie. But the second story takes us on a very different journey and the neighbouring of the two works well. In fact, the editing of the book – that invisible skill which generally receives few plaudits – was admirable in its clarity and the choices made. I was marginally less keen on some of the poetry included but a warm portrait of feisty Australian life was captured by Heather Taylor Johnson’s The Fourth Thursday in November. Ouranita Karadimas’s For Her Koumbara was also engaging and intelligent. 

Emerge is honest, unpretentious and gutsy. It is a classic example of why the short story should be applauded and respected.

Julia Bohanna has been published in Mslexia and been placed in short story competitions including The National Galleries of Scotland Story Competition 2008 (Highly Commended), The Lancet’s Fact to Fiction Competition 2007 (joint winner), The Guardian/Virgin Trains Story Competition 2007 (runner up) and Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006 (winner).

Julia's other Short Reviews: Nuala Ní Chonchúir "The Wind Across The Grass"


PublisherWet Ink

Publication Date: 2006

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

EditorsPhilip Edmonds, Dominique Wilson

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