Greater City Shadows by Laurie Steed

Reviewed by Rod McLary

William Boyd – an English author and an excellent short story writer – once said [in A Short History of the Short Story in Prospect 17 April 2018]:

[a short story] seem[s] to answer something very deep in our nature as if, for the duration of its telling, something special has been created, some essence of our experience extrapolated, some temporary sense has been made of our common, turbulent journey towards the grave and oblivion.

 This seems as good a definition of a short story as one could find.  And the short stories in this collection by Western Australian author Laurie Steed fall comfortably within that definition.  Across nineteen stories, the author casts a sharp light on the complexity and variety of human relationships especially those within families and romantic partnerships.

The stories expose father:son; mother:son and sibling relationships as well as the often-fraught friendships between men – and all of them explore the unavoidable consequences of being human and in relationship with others.  Inevitably though, as in any collection, some stories are stronger than others but all provide an insight into the internal lives of the protagonists.  The protagonists are generally male although there is certainly no shortage of interesting women whether mothers, sisters, wives or girlfriends.

Brief synopses of three of the stories will show the author’s intent.

In the eponymous story [and the shortest of all nineteen], a young man recalls his first love Beth whose name he once spraypainted on a laneway wall.  Revisiting the lane some years later, her name is still on the wall and his love is momentarily reawakened.  The power and magic of a first love?

In the second story in the collection – The Punch – a young father named the contender is heartachingly missing his young son Tyson who, along with the boy’s mother, left him six months ago.  Cleverly subverting the time sequence of the narrative, the author describes the events which took place during the protagonist’s daily run.  The contender intersects with random people who may or may not be people he knows and whose paths he crosses more than once.  But all the while, he is struggling with ‘sadness, guilt, regret’ for his failed relationship with his wife as he talks to himself: Can’t see why he’s that broken that he can’t build a life with someone [6].

Perhaps the most heartbreaking story is The Crazy and the Brave in which the protagonist Caleb is struggling with being a father of two.  He thinks of his friend Phil who may be his lifeline who offers: [a] way in which to view the world not always shrouded in defeat [205] – but his phone call to Phil goes unanswered.  So he inexorably begins that long walk to that point where it was too late [204].

Laurie Steed has crafted short stories which are as poignant and emotionally moving as they are insightful.  Some of the stories challenge the prevailing view that men’s relationships with each other comprise chest bumping and watching the footy.  In these stories, the men are vulnerable and emotionally raw and willingly share their vulnerability with friends and lovers.  One only need to consider the contender in The Punch or Caleb in The Crazy and the Brave to see how the demands of parenting and relationships weigh heavily on them and how much they need support to survive.

Greater City Shadows is a fine collection of short stories and are well worth reading with an open mind and an open heart.

Laurie Steed is a novelist from Perth.  He has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Western Australia.  He won the 2021 Henry Handel Richardson Flagship Fellowship for Short Story Writing; and was shortlisted for the 2022 Dorothy Hewett Award.  Greater City Shadows is his third book.

Greater City Shadows

[2024]

by Laurie Steed

UWA Publishing

ISBN: 978 1 76080 269 1

$29.99; 212pp

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