25 September 2023

The Hunter and Other Stories of Men

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By David Cohen, Transit Lounge, $27.99.

Shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award, this collection scrutinises the peculiarities of human behaviour with keenness, care and an astonishing virtuosity.

Cohen’s ingenuity is incredible.

Looking beneath the surface, far more poignant feelings linger in the stories that are focused on people who have been side-lined. The storylines see a bus stop outside a dementia care facility in Düsseldorf suffering its own identity crisis; a property developer who fears that a burgeoning ibis population will prevent the construction of a high rise apartment complex; a young man’s new job requires him to pose as a woodcutter and wave at a trainload of tourists; an ageing, reclusive archivist becomes locked in a strange battle of wills with a courier; and a backpacker in Israel has a bizarre religious experience.

A collection of tongue-in-cheek and distinctive stories, he follows the lives of various men in their customs or predictable routines – their let-downs, inadequacies and fixations – with a keen eye perceiving the disillusionment of modernism.

The distressing effects of mental deterioration as we age are evident in Lament of a Bus Stop outside the Benrath Senior Centre. The impact of memory loss in The Archive places the spotlight on the despair that results from the circumstance. Shrinking explores challenging ways neurosis becomes an obsession as their worlds become smaller. The character of Angus is a lonely one in Washing Day.

Pioneer also exhibits Cohen’s storytelling at its best. It is easy to identify with the hero, Dennis, and his transformation from lawyer to handyman to log-cabin-builder. Conservationists, property developers and those making ignorant decisions do not come away unscathed in The Hunter. Ingenuity is at the core of this tale that uses a sardonic sense of humour to poke fun.

Two more of the narratives deal with decision-making. In The Duke of Wellington, Cohen has a go at those who like to list the pros and cons to help them determine the way forward, while in Tony’s Farewell he describes the process undertaken by an employee of an established company.

The Brisbane-based author’s imagination is extraordinary.

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