26 September 2023

The Teeth of a Slow Machine

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Andrew Roff, Wakefield Press, $29.95.

Award-winning Australian writer, Andrew Roff delivers a bold, audacious short-story collection that scrutinises and traverses the challenges of contemporary life and what it is to be human, through a world very like our own.

At times heartfelt and funny, and playful with form and theme, Roff’s stories explore how we can live amongst the various machines and systems that pervade our lives: the workplace, cities, fast food, bureaucracy, families and our own bodies.

Andrew is an “advocate for experimental, playful, silly Australian fiction, as a corrective to the overabundance of lyrical realism that has been the dominant mode for far too long.”

He is a passionate advocate for the short story form, and says he will “happily argue that short story collections are usually superior to novels.” Roff has crafted a significant collection of short stories which differ in style and theme but all share a sense of the absurdity – and often the pain – of everyday life.

The stories are different, but each tells an interesting tale. A corporate satire follows a pair of dark operatives working for a chicken franchise as they take careful revenge on counterfeiters. A coder calculates the odds of her husband’s cold developing complications and killing him, in a story told in code. A relationship at breaking point is told via a scrambled timeline of events that works like a puzzle. A man spends his inheritance on technology that will allow him to fly. And an archeologist working for mining companies against the interests of Indigenous communities develops a mysterious psychological condition that causes her to black out and commit extreme acts of generosity.

It’s not surprising to feel bursts of despondency and a rush of dispirited mood swings that create twinges, but they do not engulf.

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