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Meanjin Tournament of Books: Short stories in 2012

November 15, 2012

Last year I wrote a series of posts on the first Meanjin Tournament of Books. Responding to the discussions that had been raging at the time, that tournament was devoted to books written by women. I’m pleased to say that the Meanjin team has decided to run the tournament again this year and the focus is another rather unsung aspect of Aussie literature – short stories. Will Meanjin, perhaps, do poetry next year? Watch this space!

Anyhow, the tournament is off and running with Angela Meyer of Literary Minded judging the first round. More of that anon, because first I’d like to list the stories. A few weeks ago, Meanjin called for suggestions through, was it Facebook or Twitter or? How can we ever keep track of what we learn where and when these days? Never mind, by whatever method I heard, I did make some suggestions – of specific titles and authors. A few of the authors I nominated are included, as is at least one title, Elizabeth Jolley‘s “Five acre virgin”. I’ll be cross if it doesn’t do well! The final list is:

  • ‘Squeakers Mate’, Barbara Baynton
  • ‘The Promise’, Tony Birch
  • ‘Five Acre Virgin’, Elizabeth Jolley
  • ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’, Nam Le
  • ‘A,B,C,D—Z’, Murray Bail
  • ‘American Dreams’, Peter Carey
  • ‘Static’, Cate Kennedy
  • ‘The Annual Conference of 1930 and South Coast Dada’, Frank Moorhouse
  • ‘Hunting the Wild Pineapple’, Thea Astley
  • ‘Today on Dr Phil’, Tom Cho
  • ‘Darling Odile’, Beverley Farmer
  • ‘Any Dog’, Sonya Hartnett
  • ‘The Drover’s Wife’, Henry Lawson
  • ‘In the Mornings We Would Sometimes Hear Him Singing’, Josephine Rowe
  • ‘It’s Too Difficult to Explain’, Tara June Winch
  • ‘Happiness’, Katherine Susannah Prichard

It looks to be a good list to me. It covers gender and time well, and includes writers from diverse cultural backgrounds. I have read some of these stories – those by Baynton, Jolley, Le and Lawson.

Regular readers might have noted that it includes two of my favourite writers, Elizabeth Jolley and Thea Astley. It also includes other writers whose novels or short stories I’ve reviewed in the last three years or so, Murray Bail, Peter Carey, and Katherine Susannah Prichard. In fact, I’ve read most of the listed authors in some form and am happy to see their short stories being recognised through the tournament. On the other hand there are  – as there always are – omissions. No Helen Garner for example, no Patrick White, but I’m not going to be churlish about that. The list is a perfectly fine one that makes a good fist of representing breadth and quality.

But now to the tournament. The first two rounds have been held, with the following results:

Match 1: Katherine Susannah Prichard’s “Happiness” versus Tom Cho’s “Today on Dr. Phil”. Meyer gave it to Cho’s story saying “Happiness’ was definitely interesting enough to make me want to read more of Prichard’s work, but Cho’s distinct, clever and funny story ‘Today on Dr Phil’ is the winner of this round.” Not having read either, I have no comment.

Match 2: Nam Le’s “Love and Honour and Pity and Compassion and Sacrifice” versus “Darling Odile” by Beverley Farmer. Judge Anna Heyward gave it to Nam Le’s story “because this story was slightly better written”. She held the two stories up to the Isaac Babel test. I’ve never heard of him but she says he’s a “master story writer of last century”. She quotes Isaac Babel as saying “In ‘Guy de Maupassant no iron can enter the human heart as chillingly as a full stop placed at the right time.” I know what he means when it comes to de Maupassant, who was my first short story love. I have read and liked Farmer, but don’t know this particularly short story (as least as I remember!). However, I have read Nam Le’s story and liked it. As I recollect, he quotes in it that recommendation to writers that you should write what you know about – but then, the rest of the short stories (until, tellingly, the final one) in the collection from which this story comes, are anything but that. Instead they are about people like Colombian assassins, Hiroshima orphans, and New York painters with haemorrhoids! It’s a sly story, and I like that.

I won’t write on this tournament, match by match, but I will be back soon with a progress report.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 2:22 am

    What a marvelous idea is the short story tournament! I know I don’t read many short stories thought I always mean to. It’s quite clever to do single stories and not story collections.

    • November 15, 2012 8:00 am

      Glad you agree Stefanie … I think that’s the beauty of short stories … You can pick one up and read a whole thing in a short time. I agree that it’s great they’re recognising that.

  2. November 15, 2012 6:52 am

    Fabulous. Anything that helps to promote the short story form gets my vote. Baynton’s ‘Squeakers Mate’ is a great inclusion and I hope we get a Lawson/Baynton bout. There’s a few here I haven’t read so will get hold of them.

    • November 15, 2012 8:06 am

      Yes, Karen Lee, that would be a good bout. I’d love to know how they’ve chosen the bouts … Random or with some method?

  3. November 16, 2012 9:58 am

    I’m a big fan of short stories. I love Tony Birch’s style – he’s a master at short stories. I also enjoy Cate Kennedy’s work but I’m not convinced about Tara June Winch…

    • November 16, 2012 10:36 am

      Oh thanks for contributing ifnotread. I’ve not read Birch (short or long fiction) or Tara June Winch yet (though I have her novel on my TBR) but I have read some of Kennedy’s short stories and liked them.

  4. November 18, 2012 8:16 am

    Another wonderful post, Sue – I hadn’t heard of the tournament. I’m glad to see in the list Nam Le’s ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’. I first read this story in Overland quite some years ago, and was so moved that I photocopied it and put it in my ‘best stories I’ve ever read’ file (yes, the file’s real!). And then, quite reasonably, he became a literary hot-shot. It’s also good to see Peter Carey in the list, because I like his short stories more than his novels. For me, his ‘The last days of a famous mime’ is a little miracle. It’s just so magical.

    • November 18, 2012 8:40 am

      Thanks Nigel … I’ve read a few Carey stories but not that one. Will try to read it during the tournament.

      I’d love to know some of the others in your file … Perhaps you could blog about them one day.

  5. November 18, 2012 8:32 pm

    As you know short stories really butter my toast so I will read what I can now. Amazing Isaac Babel’s tip about the well-placed full-stop. Punctuation must be unwavering and invisible I think. I realise I haven’t read enough of Maupassant. I’ll be very curious to follow this tournament.

    • November 18, 2012 8:41 pm

      I sure do and I’ll email you soon – I promise. Had you head of Babel before? It’s wonderful I think that Meanjin have decided to focus on short story.

  6. December 17, 2012 4:41 am

    No Marjorie Barnard stories?

    • December 17, 2012 8:01 am

      No, Tony, which is a shame. I did nominate The persimmon tree, as well as the selected Jolley, when they did their call out but alas it was not to be!

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