In this collection of Australian-based tales, writer John McAulay takes the novel approach of following his short works of fiction with an explanation of their inspiration, and a poem on the same theme. Sometimes this three-prong approach results in added insight; other times, it can feel preachy and unnecessary. But as a whole, this is a well-written collection of “yarns,” set in a landscape the author obviously knows well.
Many of the stories have a family or in-law theme, such as “Bernie,” which pits a country dad against a city-born future son-in-law, with both men getting an unpleasant taste of the other’s way of life. It’s a humorous story with a ring of truth, but the explanation dampens the fun; “… going through your old age without family can be done but with much less pleasure,” McAulay writes in the accompanying essay. “Many young people today are finding this out to their mortification … while they always meant to have a family, they were so busy enjoying the fruits of their single lives, that they failed to provide against loneliness in their old age by creating one.”
Other times, the companion essay sheds a nice bit of light on the story and writer. “Dreamtime,” for example, is the story of a close relationship between a young boy and an aborigine stock hand. The tale, McAulay explains, is his imagining of a relationship he might have had with a hired hand of his youth had his family not moved away.
At times in this collection, the stories seem to run out of plot or themes feel redundant, but the heart of these tales is a close look at life on a remote piece of earth where hard work fosters hardy spirits. As such, McAulay is more than up to the task.
BlueInk Heads-Up: Readers with a yen to learn a bit more about Australia will particularly enjoy this read.
Also available in paperback.