The Butcherbird Stories by A S Patric, Review: Unsettling & moving

Eleven short fictions feature in Miles Franklin award-winning author A S Patric’s latest collection The Butcherbird Stories.

The Butcherbird Stories ReviewThe Butcherbird Stories Synopsis:

Eleven stories. Each like a matchstick struck to illuminate the darkness. Evocations of place ranging from a Bangla jungle to the deep, blue Danube to a winter beach in Melbourne excite and seduce. But what truly draws the reader in are the unexpected landscapes of people’s lives, explored with rare sensitivity, grace and a fearless truthfulness.

A lonely St Kilda chef invites a beautiful busker to use his spare room. A father sings a lullaby to comfort his young daughter who has woken from a nightmare. A taxi driver picks up an old-world gentleman who is reluctant to disclose his destination. A young immigrant boy growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne daydreams of infinite possibility.

Death, loneliness, passion and belief: Patrić takes on the big questions in life and writes about the small people of the world with stylistic verve and deep humanity.

This collection of stories reveals the author, best known for his award-winning novels, as a true master of the short story form.

(Transit Lounge, November 2018)

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My introduction to A S Patric’s writing was his second published collection of short fiction Las Vegas for Vegans (2012). At the time I wrote:

Talented short story writers generally have an ability to see the commonplace through a different lens but A S Patric exhibits this more than most… If there is a unifying theme, it is the value to be found in looking more closely at places most people fear to tread.

My admiration for the literary skill displayed was such that I have read every title A S Patric has published since – a novella called Bruno Kramzer, his Miles Franklin award-winning debut novel Black Rock White City and second novel Atlantic Black. One always has the feeling of being in safe hands with his writing — emotional confrontation, impact and reward guaranteed.

It is pleasing to see this latest collection published in quality hardback… something of a rarity these days, but its contents are deserving of such packaging. I took my time reading the eleven short fictions contained. From the shortest works of ‘H.B.’, ‘Amy in#12’ and ‘The Rothko’ at 3-5 pages to lengthier titles, 50+ page pieces ‘Among the Ruins’ and ‘The Flood’, each resonates long after reading. So much so, that it felt akin to sacrilege to dive straight into the next. I let myself ponder each a while.

The title which spurned this collection’s name, ‘Butcherbird’, in equal parts unsettling and moving, considers the challenges of parenting in a world where appearances often deceive and dangers lurk where we least expect. The experience of migrants, and one assumes of the author himself, is explored in the dignified simplicity of ‘H.B.’ (which you can read in full here) and the insightfulness of ‘Punctuated Air’:

It’s a strange circumstance when you devote yourself to a language that does not belong to your parents. Because a writer does not simply use the language; a writer becomes the language. There’s a devotion to a literary legacy. Dedicating your life to a history which your ancestors have never belonged creates a separation within your mind and seems to say: before you, there is nothing.

Other titles, including ‘The Bengal Monkey’, ‘Avulsion’ and ‘Dead Sun’, evoke a surreal detachment and sinister revelation — Patric often like a magician performing a trick in plain sight, relying upon the psyche’s need to protect, to delay conscious recognition of that which is feared.

Patric’s short fictions have uncommon depth and layering, oozing intelligence and subtle dark humour.  The first time I read ‘Among the Ruins’ (when titled Bruno Kramzer‘) my overriding impression was its dark and sinister tone. On my second reading, in a different time and place, the dark humour became more apparent to me.

If you’re looking for cheap twists, this collection is not for you. A S Patric’s The Butcherbird Stories engages and challenges readers in the way of all quality literature — it presents catalysts for mindfulness and interrogation of values and behaviours — through accessible prose and experience, rather than literary decadence.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

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Genre: Short Stories, Literature, Drama

This review counts towards my participation in the 2018 Aussie Author Challenge and the New Release Challenge 2018.

About the Author, A S Patric

A. S. Patrić is a bookseller and teacher of creative writing. He is the author of two short story collections, Las Vegas for Vegans and The Rattler & other stories, and a novella called Bruno Kramzer. His debut novel Black Rock White City was published to critical acclaim in 2015 and won the Miles Franklin Award in 2016. His second novel Atlantic Black was published in November 2017 and a new collection of stories The Butcherbird Stories in 2018. Alec lives in bayside Melbourne with his wife and two daughters.

Other reviews of The Butcherbird Stories

Goodreads, Kill Your Darlings, Books+Publishing, Readings

* My receiving a copy of The Butcherbird Stories from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.