The cliché advice to writers is, “write what you know,” and if Elliot Perlman’s collection of short stories is based on what he knows and has personally experienced, then I feel very, very sorry for him.
The characters in these nine stories deal mainly with rejection in one form or another, and the reader watches as they spiral down a path of depression. This is not a book filled with cheerful stories and happy outcomes, but nevertheless, it is still a worthy read.
Good Morning, Again opens with the awkwardness of new lovers as they lay in bed the morning after. The man carries on an internal dialogue with the woman he wishes was in bed with him. When he gets cold he’d like to reach for a T-shirt, but doesn’t want to wake his new partner.
A young boy’s father reads him a story before turning out the lights, and then the boy imagines dinosaurs, and sniffs chocolate drifting from the nearby factory as he falls asleep. In the Time of the Dinosaur spins a story of deceit, betrayal, and adultery around the innocence of a child.
The third story, Your Niece’s Speech Night, traces the life and death of an office romance. The end of the relationship occurs in a most cruel and unusual way.
The author’s legal background—he’s a barrister in Melbourne, Australia—comes out in three stories; The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming (1994 winner of The Age Short Story Award), Manslaughter, and The Hong Kong Fir Doctrine. A potentially interesting story is Manslaughter, but it can’t escape the dry boredom of sitting in a courtroom and watching a murder trial. The Fir Doctrine referred to in the story’s title address the contractual terms of conditions and warranties. Between two lovers in an illicit affair there is a type of unspoken contract, but what happens when an irreversible mistake is made?
A poet narrates I Was Only In A Childish Way Connected To The Established Order. We follow the poet’s adult life from young lover, to husband, to father. We watch as the wife’s career soars while the poet lives life within his head. Where and how can he add value to his family? The question is answered when a terrible thing happens.
The last year in Spitalnic’s Last Year, refers to the protagonist’s final year at university. Things were going great for the twenty-year-old, bon vivant student, until his girl friend of two years breaks up with him over the phone on the day of his final economics exam. His life gets worse after that.
The final story, A Tale in Two Cities, differs in several ways from the others. Told in two parts and over eighty pages in length it is more of a novella than short story. It is the only story with a female narrator, and it focuses on a family’s migration from the Soviet Union to Australia, and the struggles of integrating into a different culture.
Mr. Perlman has won literary awards for his first novel, Three Dollars. His second novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity was short listed for the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. His most recent novel, The Street Sweeper, was published in 2011.