Tuesday, June 22, 2010
How a Moth Becomes a Boat
By Josephine Rowe
Josephine Rowe’s How a Moth Becomes a Boat is a collection of short stories originally published by Cherry Fox Press in 2009, which has just been reissued for a wider audience by Hunter Publishers. But even to call Rowe’s work short stories is partially erroneous; this slender, 79-page book actually comprises nineteen extremely brief short stories, most of which are under 1000 words in keeping with the genre variously known as either flash fiction or micro fiction.
While the book may be slim, however, nothing about these stories feels slight. Although written in prose, Rowe’s stories have the feel and shape of lyric and confessional poetry (and fittingly, Rowe is also a poet). Rowe’s stories are wonderfully economical and concise; entire narratives develop over the space of a few hundred words, and despite its brevity, anyone finishing How a Moth Becomes a Boat will no doubt feel that they have, indeed, finished reading an entire collection of short fiction. Rowe consistently evokes precise images that deftly convey the emotional impact of a much larger story.
The stories cover varied terrain, but situations and themes return. Many stories involve younger artists and creative types living in sharehouses in suburban Melbourne (and abroad), or discuss the fallout from failed relationships or else the emotional scars inflicted by negligent or absent parents. But such a description doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the prose inside this book. Indeed, in its physical size, restrained prose and thematics, the book recalls Helen Garner’s Postcards from Surfers.
But there’s something in Rowe’s style that separates her from Garner as well. In the seeming simplicity of her spare prose, one can also sense the ghost of Modernism, and the style of such writers as William Carlos Williams (in his story ‘The Knife of the Times’) or even Gertrude Stein (in Tender Buttons).
There are too many great stories in here to name them all, but I’ll quickly note a few of my favourites, including ‘Tame’ about a father watching his children feed wild foxes, ‘Tape’ about a man who finds a cassette that contains a recording of his dead wife, and the stories ‘Love’ and ‘Belt’, which are both about a woman’s relationship with her estranged father. It’s a book-reviewing cliché to say of a short story collection that some stories are better than others; this is true of all short story collections, even the best ones. What I’d rather say here about Rowe’s work is that, while I had my favourites, every story kept me engaged and wanting to read more.
This is a beautifully wrought and wonderfully eclectic debut, written with a strong and unique authorial voice. In short, it’s exceptional – a brilliant, powerful collection of very short, short fiction.
This review initially aired on Triple R's Breakfasters program.
Posted by Emmett Stinson at 10:25 AM