Hold Your Fire by Chloe Wilson

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Hold Your Fire is a collection of short stories – each offering an insight into our inner desires and fears.  In this excellent collection of contemporary short stories, the author challenges our perceptions and certainties.

As well as the more conventional style of short story, the collection also contains examples of ‘flash fiction’ – or short stories which may be only one, two or three pages long but still containing characterisation and plot development.  First in the collection is ‘The Leopard Next Door’ – a prime example of ‘flash fiction’.

It may be only two pages in length but it contains all that is required in any story, short or otherwise.  Its title immediately captures the reader’s attention and, almost before the reader knows it, the dénouement is reached.  The person from whose perspective the story is told likes the idea of a leopard living in the apartment next door – ‘someone else who knew they were in the wrong place but didn’t know how to get out’ [2].

One longer story – Powerful Owl – begins with the rather confronting but at the same time intriguing sentence – ‘The first part of Maya to wash up on shore was a foot’ [31].  While that sentence may suggest crime or even horror, the story describes a different horror.  The unnamed protagonist takes a job caring for the young daughter of a university lecturer while his wife is on a sabbatical overseas.  Told in the first person in a deliberate and engrossing manner, the story hints at deeper currents pulling the characters towards an inevitable conclusion.  The protagonist says at one point ‘How long and slow the days became that spring’ [36]; and, while looking at the sleeping child, she says to herself ‘it was impossible to remember being a person to whom nothing terrible had happened’ [37].  After an incident with an exploding candle, the protagonist leaves the job thinking ‘it would be best if he never saw me again’ [44].

In Harbour, two sisters explore solutions for their shared ‘digestive disorders’.  Moving further and further away from traditional medicine, they seek out the ‘Expulsion Cure’ administered by Dr Bellavit on a deserted island.  With some prescience, a relative says to the sisters: ‘The only thing making the two of you sick is each other’ [51].  The health cure turns out to be – as an astute reader would realise from the beginning – an elaborate hoax where the outcome of the cure is usually death and the admission forms include documents which transfer the estates of those who have died to Dr Bellavit.  One sister survives though and in a rather chilling conclusion to the story wonders [after tasting her sister’s ashes] ‘how long I’d have to wait to be sure she was really gone’ [65].

The title story – Hold Your Fire – begins as many of the stories do with a sentence which is certain to immediately grab the reader’s attention – ‘While waiting for his faecal transplant, my husband wasn’t as much fun as he used to be’ [87].  It would be natural to wonder where this story will go but, while more is said about the faecal transplant and why it is required, the core of the story is about the couple’s four-year-old son Samuel.  Fiona is employed by one of the largest defence companies in the world designing air-to-air missiles; her husband Connor is a marketing consultant; and they have not had ‘satisfactory penetrative sex in more than a year’ [89].  Fiona finds Samuel ‘annoying’ with his fear of denim, windscreen wipers and bananas.

In a very humorous section, which satirises the post-modern left-wing language now used within the educational system, the author describes the unfolding of events when Fiona is called to Samuel’s pre-school because of an incident with another pupil.  In the words of the teacher, Samuel and the other pupil found themselves ‘a little out of sync’.  The other pupil Luna ‘wasn’t being sufficiently challenged in the lower age pod.  She’s been accelerated’ [100].

However, Samuel redeems himself to Fiona in an incident which leads her to say of him:

He wouldn’t be the kind of person who seemed particularly talented, or beautiful, or charming, or forceful.  But when the time came – and it always came, always – he would be the one to push the button.  [118]

The stories are intelligent and insightful, sometimes cutting, sometimes humorous, but always finding the heart of the matter and exposing it for what it is.  The tensions within all of us between our conflicting desires and fears are set out for critical examination on the pages of this collection of short stories.  There is an assurance and confidence displayed in every word.  Without a doubt, Hold Your Fire is a must-read.

Chloe Wilson’s work has appeared in a number of journals including Best Australian Poems, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Big Issue and Australian Book Review.  Her stories have been shortlisted for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Hold Your Fire


by Chloe Wilson

Scribner Australia

ISBN 978 1 76110 024 6

$32.99; 248pp


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