2014 was a great year for stories.
The Best Australian Stories 2014, edited by Amanda Lohrey, is my favourite in this series to date. I look forward to the release of these anthologies each year. They are one of my annual must-reads; the other being the poetry anthology by the same publishers, Black Inc.
I don’t remember ever reading an anthology that gripped me as tightly as this one did. I loved every story. Every story. There are twenty-three of them in this marvellous book, written by a variety of talented Australian writers, or should I call them storytellers? There are no weak stories in this collection. Each is strong enough to hold its own beside the others. Of the twenty-three stories, thirteen of them had been previously published in some of Australia’s best literary journals, including Meanjin, Overland, Island and The Sleepers Almanac.
These stories are vividly imagined, with an emotional depth that is sometimes lacking in the form. The characters are complex, both harsh and vulnerable, confident and confused. There is a sense of loss and sadness throughout many of the stories, but overall you don’t mourn these characters. They are living life, every gritty, messy, real moment of it.
My favourites were too many to list in detail here. As I said, I loved every story, but there were a few in particular I’d like to mention. Blood and Bone by Lisa Jacobson, a simple story of a son called back from the city to the family farm to carry out a task his father is unable to perform. A story I would suggest you do not read on the train or in the lunchroom at work. The Panther by David Brooks, a fantastical tale that mirrors an urban myth many country Victorians have heard, but also a tale about faith and trust. Something Special, Something Rare by Rebekah Clarkson, where a boy constantly in trouble becomes the catalyst for the reimagining of a family.
I love anthologies. It’s a chance for a reader to sample an array of writers they may never have come across individually. Being able to dip in and out at random is the fun part. I’ll often begin with the shortest tales, checking the page numbers to determine which story to read next. In this way I move through the collection both forward and backwards. Having been on an editorial team for an anthology, I understand that Lohrey would have careful chosen the order of stories so apologies to her, but I think half the fun of reading collections like these is the freedom you feel in making these decisions for yourself. Lohrey did such a wonderful job of chosing what to include that it mattered not, at least to me, in what order the stories were consumed. Each course was a tasty delight to the senses.
If you are looking for your next read, you can’t go wrong here.