26 September 2023

Pushing Back

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By John Kinsella, Transit Lounge, $29.99.

This remarkable story collection from Kinsella tugs at the heartstrings. All 35 short yarns leave an indelible mark. Some because they don’t have a happy ending — others knock you over with a bang, a few leave you lamenting.

The compilation is punctuated with unconventional, forceful characters, wanderers, improbable friendships, the stillness of disbanding relationships, troubled dwellings and lonely highways, the ghosts of cleared bushland and the threats of right-wing nationalists and pointless obliteration.

It’s a self-assured cleansing of modern Australian life where understanding rises like the red-tailed black cockatoos that appear and reappear, nature coalescing with the human spirit, animals, trees, land and the people pushing back. It would not be wrong to call them novellas are at once worrying, caring and confident.

Being paranoid is common, especially when you’re methodical. So when your mother says to make sure you lock the back door when you come in from the shed, you do just that. However, what about those times when you wonder about other instances when chores have been done, but get frightened to go check. Such is the scenario in the title story.

In the first narrative Having Kittens, we need to dig beneath the surface for the message with this quote: “The river messes things up, he said in a fit of pique. It makes people moody. He detested overt displays of emotion, unless it was rage come about by being pushed too far.” When it came to managing men, “Yes, his father knew about such things …”

A variety of thoughts race through one’s mind, after a chance meeting on the Night Train – Patras to Athens. We are all subject to the lures of positive strengthening as in The Purchase. In Here Be Lions, a young boy has a specific descriptive about mangy lions in an open zoo park visited by the family.

Described as Kinsella’s most haunting and timely fiction to date, Kinsella’s short stories are testament to his powers as a shrewd spectator and a gifted communicator.

What is the title of the story that features the Patras-Athens train? If your answer is correct, you could win one of two books of Pushing Back. Entries should be sent to [email protected] by Monday, 12 April 2021. Names of the winners will be announced in Frank Cassidy’s PS-sssst…! column on 13 April 2021.

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