Lit - Stories From Home: Collected Authors edited by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod
Lit: Stories From Home begins with an editor's note from Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod about the importance short stories had in her life. So much so, in fact, that she would carry around her copy of a pocket sized New Zealand Short Stories 1953 edition that belonged to her father. Such is the pull of quality writing. Such is the pull of New Zealand stories. They belong to us all, and yet they belong to none of us. Familiar, yet other worldly. The New Zealand on the page is the New Zealand we know, but at the same time different - not good different, nor bad different, just different. There is much to love about the way Kiwis write, and there is much to love in this collection of these NZ stories.
This collection is seemingly aimed at a school audience. A series for use in a classroom to unpick the stitching of the plot and looking at the mastery of the craft in capturing this, that or the other thing. It would be easy, in these situations, to miss the vital point of all these stories - one that makes the appeal much more universal than the collecting of sibilance or metaphor - they are darn good yarns.
There are very good reasons why Katherine Mansfield, Owen Marshall, Frank Sargeson, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace have become household names. They are that good. In this collection their works act like a beacon for newcomers to the genre. The Doll’s House by Mansfield is less a piece of fiction and more a stunning work of art. I doubt there are many who read Sargeson and find nothing in it that resonates with either themselves, or their view of life in Aotearoa. His craftsmanship still feels new after all these years. As for Ihimaera and Grace, we are blessed to call them contemporaries. They are nationally treasured for what they continue to produce. They present a world of wonder and of beauty that is often the first experience of te ao Māori that young people ever experience in literature.
For any newbies learning about the genre, the greats are a good place to start. Get your feet wet. Experience some magic that is the slice of life short story genre. But there is so much more to this collection than these classics.
Some less well known writers such as Rajorsh Chakraborti, Ting J. Yiu and Gina Cole offer their take on aspects of New Zealand life with a deft hand. Chakraborti’s lyrical and beautiful descriptions capture a taste of Aotearoa that is unique. Indian-born, Chakraborti is expressive in the language choice that adds a richness to the reading. Cole, on the other hand, adopts an Asian persona in Baby Doll to describe life in a Barbie sweatshop replete with grammatical construction that emulates some of the syntactical struggles that many foreigners have when learning English. It’s a masterclass on voice in literature.
Short stories are much more than a little cousin to their immensely more powerful novel relations. They are poetic in their word choice, narrative in their style choice and gripping in their plot choice. The great James Joyce once wrote that a good short story is invasive to one’s psyche. It sticks long past where it should. These short stories fit that definition by Joyce perfectly.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
One Tree, RRP $29.00