“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: The Sleepers Almanac, No. 6

Sleepers Almanac, No. 6
Sleepers Publishing

Over the last six years, The Sleepers Almanac has gone from being an upstart anthology of short fiction to becoming an established venue for presenting some of the best and most exciting new Australian short fiction. This year’s edition features work by more established writers, including Cate Kennedy, Steven Amsterdam, Kalinda Ashton, and David Astle, as well as emerging authors.
The publication of this year’s edition is a Janus-faced event; on the one hand, it marks the end of the Almanac as a print publication, while on the other, it ushers in the birth of this anthology as an iPhone application.  For this year, we’re lucky enough to get the best of both worlds: on top of the print Almanac, Sleepers have simultaneously released an iPhone application that collects the first six volumes together (Full disclosure: I’ve published stories in two previous volumes of Sleepers Almanac).
The anthology is a wonderful mix of styles and genres; there are too many good stories to name them all, but here were some of my favourites: Nick Levey’s ‘Sue and Joe Chase a Light Hovering about the Treeline’, which recounts a conversation between two people who are pursuing what appears to be a UFO; Steven Amsterdam’s ‘Water Is Wide’, which is subtle and moving story about a mother who is worried about her son’s strange behaviour; Helen Richardson’s ‘King of the Air’, a claustrophobic tale about a birdwatcher with ambiguously malevolent intentions; Ryan O’Neill’s ‘The Beginning of the Sentence’, a clever metafiction that depicts an ESL teacher’s failing marriage through the prism of his class’s language exercises; Jon Bauer’s ‘Uncle’, a Freudian fable that carefully treads the thin line between the grotesque and the absurd; and Laurie Steed’s ‘The Punch’, which tells the story of several characters whose lives unexpectedly intersect.
My favourite story, however, is David Astle’s ‘Nymphomaniacs’, which depicts a love affair that develops between an entomologist at the Melbourne Museum and a teenage boy. This story recalls A.S. Byatt’s ‘Morpho Eugenia’ from Angels and Insects and similarly employs a scientific, insectine language to describe this unusual relationship.
As always, the anthology is cleverly sequenced, and many stories are linked to each other by shared themes, objects or concepts. This thoughtful editing results in a collection that feels far more unified than most collections of disparate authors. As in the past (and hopefully in the future!) the sixth edition of The Sleepers Almanac offers an intriguing snapshot of contemporary Australian short fiction that’s a must read for anyone who is interested in what’s going on in our national literature.

The Almanac will be launched at the Bella Union Bar in Trades Hall by Jon Bauer this Thursday at 6 p.m.


Laurie Steed said...

Hi Emmett, Thanks very much for the mention!

I agree, it's an excellent collection and I also had Ryan O'Neill and Steven Amsterdam's among my favourites. I love Ryan's ability to subvert traditional narrative format and come up with new and wonderful ways to present a story.

Hope to see you at the launch.

Emmett Stinson said...

Yes, well I loved your story. I've also just gotten a copy of Ryan O'Neill's Six Tenses, which I'm excited to read; I like what I've read of his work thus far.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to make the launch--I'm teaching, but have a great time!

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