Each year, Black Inc bring out three volumes which wrap up a selection of the year’s best Australian stories, poems and essays. These collections have been edited by various authors over the years, among them Robert Drewe, Geordie Williamson, Cate Kennedy, Amanda Lohrey, and, most recently, Charlotte Wood. The 2017 collection of short stories was edited by Maxine Beneba Clarke, whose own short story collection Foreign Soil was a notable book of 2014.
A slender volume, this year’s anthology brings together a diverse section of writers, some of whom are well-known in Australian literary circles and some of whom may well be in the years to come. The authors included in this year’s book include Tony Birch, Ellen van Neerven, Ryan O’Neill and Julie Koh, and featured stories that have been published in places such as Westerly, Kill Your Darlings and the Review of Australian Fiction. In many ways, the anthology is a year book for Australian literature and perhaps even current affairs. It contains stories which examine race, culture and belonging, stories which engage in conversations about uncomfortable parts of history and the present, as well as stories with a touch of the fantastical about them. Elizabeth Flux captures the mood of the collection strikingly in her story ‘One’s Company’ when she says “…she didn’t have time for magical realism.” (p. 153)
As with any multi-authored collection it can be hard to see how the pieces of this puzzle fit together. The stories that make up this collection were published originally in places that catered to different audiences, and in issues that may have had themes. They vary in length, and each voice is different. One of the stand out pieces in the collection is Tony Birch’s ‘Sissy’, originally published in Westerly Magazine, which follows a young Aboriginal girl who is preparing to go on a beach holiday with a wealthy white family, which has been organised by the Church. Birch’s sense of place, time and character immediately submerge the reader in this character’s point of view, making you feel each part of the story as if you two were going on the trip. Beejay Silcox’s ‘Slut Trouble’ is a coming of age story about female friendship, but with a twist.
As our young narrator and her friend find themselves fascinated by a series of local murders, they are forced to confront some alarming changes in their friendship. Melissa Lucashenko’s ‘Dreamers’ was a piece that seemed slow to start, yet it ended up being my favourite of the whole collection– it follows the story of a family and their live-in help, an Aboriginal woman who has a close affinity in particular to the woman in the family and her child. When that child goes missing, the dynamic shifts. It is the ending to the piece, and the single image it evokes, that will stay with me long after this book has been closed.
Best Australian Stories 2017 is out now throughout Black Inc.