Reviewed by Richard Tutin
Writing a short story is an exacting art. Words cannot be wasted but the story needs to begin, progress and come to some form of conclusion. From time to time the thought arises that this form of literature is dying and before too long will be consigned to the heavens. However, this collection judged and selected from the five hundred entries for 2021’s Furphy Literary Award clearly demonstrates that the Australian short story is alive, well and definitely kicking.
Each of the stories in this latest anthology offers different perspectives on Australian life, characters, experiences and attitudes. No doubt, with five hundred entries, the judges had a hard time whittling it down to the best sixteen and from that find a winner of the Award.
Thomas Alan of Toowoomba was declared the winner with his entry Oranges. It tells the story of an angry teenager who finds it difficult to relate to the world around him. Like many short stories, it leaves a lot for the reader to decide. Are his issues within himself or does he just project them on to those around him? We are left to wonder. Life in a small town is not easy at times for young people as they try to find their place in the world.
No Good Deed by Andrew Roff, about an archaeologist who, after blacking out, finds that she has done acts of kindness and generosity of which she has no memory of either planning or doing, was one of my favourites. It also triggered the thought about how doing things that we think are alien to our nature and personality can change us even though we are not conscious of ever doing them. Are we ignoring a dimension of our life that we have not paid much attention to? Roff leaves us to work that one out for ourselves.
It was Judith A. Green’s Song of the Pines that raised some interesting and emotional thoughts about relationships and how we respond to tragic experiences. The tensions between the bachelor farmer and the woman who has been contracted to renovate small cemeteries in the shire simmer through the story. Old wounds are reopened as tragedies are revealed. Yet, as the story reaches its conclusion, a possible reconciliation of many issues seems to be offered. It is worth reading to find out.
The sixteen stories in the anthology include the three winners and thirteen shortlisted entries. With such good literature on offer, there is something for every reader. Short stories allow authors to explore issues and themes that may progress to a larger form such as a novella or full-scale novel. Either way, this anthology reminds us that, like Joseph Furphy for whom the Furphy Award is named, the story tellers in this volume are part of the rich heritage of writing that has been part of the Australian landscape for many decades.
The Furphy Literary Award is named in honour of Australian writer Joseph Furphy who wrote under the pen name Tom Collins and published Such Is Life in 1903. Originally established in 1992, the Award was relaunched as a national prize in 2020.
The Furphy Anthology 2021
The Furphy Literary Award
Hardie Grant Books