This is the first of my reviews for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge: Overland’s ebook Women’s Work. I will confess to a Thurber moment when first looking at this publication – the small cover graphic seemed to be a robot. Immersed as I usually am in the world of speculative fiction, I did not wonder why a literary journal would choose a robot for the cover, I just accepted it. Perhaps robots were undertaking all women’s work in the future? But, of course the illustration is not a robot, it is a women standing on a chair, bent over, her long hair hanging down and an extremely large present resting on her back. (the robot’s head in my mind!)
Women’s Work is a collection of five new short short stories by Australian women writers. Editor Clare Strahan states in her introduction that each captures “the essence of excellence in short story – the quartet of form, beauty, ease and a sense of the whole.” Each of the stories is very different, but if there is a thread that binds them it is, for me, a powerful imagery which lasts beyond the reading and, perhaps, a slight melancholy. Every reader will have their favourite, and I will not nominate one. None of the stories address that particular meaning of women’s work – domestic chores – except perhaps in passing. Instead we are given something close to fables that offer insight into the human condition.
Anne Hotta’s The Art of Ikebana describes a conscribed world in which symbol and imagination are perhaps more powerful than reality. Calving, by Georgina Luck, takes place on a wider stage, but still one that is constrained by circumstance. Its ending twists your heart. Helen Addison-Smith’s She is raw and sad, bitter and funny. A moving description of loss. Forest, by Susie Greenhill, mourns the loss of a different sort, that of the natural world, as the protagonist moves through loneliness, perhaps to madness, perhaps to another place of being. The final story, Under the Bridge by Cheryl Adam, describes a collision of worlds in which nature is likely to be the destroyer.
It was a pleasure to read each of these very different stories. If you would also like to take a look, the ebook is available at booki.sh.