The Long and the Short of It anthology review

by Sarah Laing / 20 August, 2011
A story anthology with a difference.
The Long and the Short of It is an enchanting publication – slim, creamy-paged, square-shaped, illustrated by Anastasia Doniants, who has a surrealist touch with the coloured pencils. Containing two winners and four highly commendeds, it’s the result of a Unity Books and Sport competition for the best stories over 10,000 or under 1000 words, as judged by Elizabeth Knox, Bill Manhire and Emily Perkins.

I loved Kirsten McDougall’s Clean Hands Save Lives, the winning story under 1000 words. She captures the absurdist state of motherhood – the battle between biscuits and principles. From the foul-mouthed four-year-old taking “thirty-six hours and a knife to come out” to the “maniac with a hygiene fetish”, the details are droll and true, and the story ends where a preschooler's logic might lead you.

I also loved Anna Jackson’s When We Were Bread. It describes the self-absorption of pregnancy, the cacophony of life. It is tightly structured, a chapter and a hormone-addled dream for each month. The imagery is glorious (Spanish brothels, heroin after an All Blacks loss, a crib made of copper wire and cardboard), and I was sad to leave the cast of characters, hoping they might sprawl into a future novel.

The winning story over 10,000 words, Lawrence Patchett’s The Road to Tokomairiro, is elegant, with a deep sympathy towards the people involved. After a freak accident that kills an older honeymooning couple, a coach-and-horses driver refuses the solace offered by a reverend, but turns to storytelling to ease his distress. Patchett synchronises the horses’ gait with the length of the yarn, the destination being reached at the same time as his conclusion.

In, Craig Cliff employs the wit and intelligence that won him the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. He snapshots the restlessness of farmers on holiday in Fiji, desperate to demonstrate their No 8 wiriness to thwart Cyclone Stuart. Their long-suffering wives read Jodi Picoult and join them for sunset dinner cruises, “platters of cold prawns but no sliced bread”. It’s a wry vignette of how people get things so wrong.

Sylvie Thomson and Rachel O’Neill’s stories complete the set, but although both have the “touches of brilliance” the judges talk about in their introduction – great characters and striking language – they aren’t fully resolved.

A curious thing: five of the writers are graduates from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters. Is this now a prerequisite for winning competitions? I hope there are other writers out there, that it is possible to write outside the workshop environment. I tried to discern a house style but couldn’t – each writer has a distinct voice. Perhaps, then, the IIML is a Swiss finishing school – what these writers share is poise.

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT (Unity Books/Sport, $20).

Sarah Laing is an Auckland writer, cartoonist and designer.

Latest

The Heart Dances: Lifting the lid on the culture clash behind ‘The Piano’ ballet
104740 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Movies

The Heart Dances: Lifting the lid on the culture c…

by Russell Baillie

Documentary offers an intriguing look at the clash of artistic sensibilities behind adapting The Piano into a ballet.

Read more
How this remarkable native insect is being saved
104836 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Planet

How this remarkable native insect is being saved

by Jenny Nicholls

Principles of bird conservation are helping to save another remarkable native you’ve never heard of.

Read more
Environment Ministry 'unashamedly proud' of bleak report's honesty
104868 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Planet

Environment Ministry 'unashamedly proud' of bleak…

by RNZ

The Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said she was proud of the report's honesty and it was an important stocktake for the country.

Read more
The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke than demonic
104712 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Television

The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke…

by Diana Wichtel

Diana Wichtel reviews a new American TV series based on the hit Kiwi comedy.

Read more
Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gender and identity
104230 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Books

Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gend…

by Brigid Feehan

In her latest novel, Julie Cohen traces the parallel male and female lives of a single character.

Read more
Win a copy of Sir David Attenborough's Life on Earth: 40th Anniversary Edition
104844 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Win

Win a copy of Sir David Attenborough's Life on Ear…

by The Listener

To celebrate Sir David Attenborough season on Sky, we are giving away copies of his book Life on Earth: 40th Anniversary Edition.

Read more
The Kiwi behind the powerful Aspen Institute's Queenstown launch
104788 2019-04-18 09:00:50Z Profiles

The Kiwi behind the powerful Aspen Institute's Que…

by Clare de Lore

Thanks to the determination of Christine Maiden, NZ has joined an international leadership network that aims to work on issues important to the future

Read more
Science must trump ideology in the GE debate
104784 2019-04-18 08:52:29Z Politics

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate

by The Listener

A New Zealand-developed super-grass that appears to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions might be blocked in this country by the Green Party.

Read more