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How to Get Fired by Evana Belich

‘I choose to be exhilarated by the gift of failure.’ From this pithy and provocative first line in Evana Bellich’s short story collection, How to Get Fired, I was enthralled. Perceptive, fresh, wonderfully detailed, sometimes heart-rending and, at times, so funny I laughed out loud.

What She Had draws the reader into the losses and harsh reality of post- earthquake Christchurch. There has been yet another after-shock, devastating to Emma, Vic’s ex-partner. Vic attends to Emma – ‘A hot cup of something to make Emma feel tended and cared for.’ Afterwards, she joins Emma’s daughter Zoe ‘sitting on a big outdoor couch, part of the set Emma had been excited to buy for next-to-nothing back when anyone gave a shit about outdoor furniture’. Together, Vic and Zoe have built an ‘imaginary library’ of stories, told by Vic but added to and embellished by Zoe. The story Vic now tells is how, after the earthquake, she visited each of the houses she’d lived in, what she’d found and the treasures she took away with her. Alongside this, and not part of the told story is her memories and thoughts of her former homes.

The story-telling alongside Zoe’s questions and Vic’s reflections and memories create an interweaving of loss, tenderness, and understanding as she contemplates her past and present experiences.

Christmas With Chess presents us with the rituals, irritations and trials of Christmas; Chess worries that the turkey may be dry, she clashes with her mother over various tasks, family members make awkward comments, children cry and there is an alarming accident. Still, there are moments of delight; ‘A princess crown for little May,’ I exactly needed this,’ May says. She holds the crown up high before pressing it on her head, crowning herself’. The repetition of Oh beloved, a thought which pops reasonably regularly though unexpectedly into Chess’s head undercuts the difficulties, the disagreements, lifting them with the love which underlies the frustrations.

Part of what makes these stories so engaging is the way in which Bellich recreates characters who are familiar to us; the manipulated son, ’Robbie’s mother made him buy the unit‘, the misogynist, Fiona who is seemingly successful but has a serious problem with alcohol, Connie who is ‘so irritated by life that she might not be able to un-irritate herself ever again’ and Aunty Lou who ‘irons every square inch of her sheets.’ The details which surround and embellish these characters are vivid and arresting, pitched perfectly to imply and reveal,‘the woman seems to be made up entirely of obedient strands; her hair, her hairless legs, her elegant arms, the whole concoction moving is a gentle, wafting way.’ Another strength is Bellich’s skill with dialogue; colloquial and entirely authentic, the reader both smiles and cringes. I loved the playful use of catchwords; positive outcomes, learnings, growth outcomes.

Bellich vividly reveals the inner life of her characters as they navigate the politics of their workplaces and the mundanity, dissatisfactions and small joys of recognisable lives.

This is a wonderful collection, unyielding in its revelations yet also warmly endorsing the marvels of the familiar, the identifiable, the everyday. Buy. Read. Enjoy.

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Penguin Books


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