A richly varied collection of nine stories, first published in 2000, from the Australian barrister and author whose 2004 novel Seven Types of Ambiguity was a major critical success.
Perlman’s brisk staccato prose works to fine effect in several intense monologues, including one unnamed narrator’s rueful farewell to his former lover following a night’s lovemaking with a nubile “new friend” (“Good Morning, Again”); another’s bitter lament to the former coworker who had only toyed with his obsessive affections (“Your Niece’s Speech Night”); and a probate lawyer’s passionate objections (in the story “The Hong Kong Fir Doctrine”) expressed to the woman he had impregnated, lost to her husband and now importunes in the language he knows best (“Look at the effect of the breach. . . . There is damage”). The law also figures in “Manslaughter,” an insistently readable (though somewhat diffuse) omniscient account of a murder trial involving two suburban families. But there are more strings than these to Perlman’s bow. A schoolboy’s fascination with prehistoric reptiles comments mordantly on the dwindling chances for survival of his parents’ shaky marriage (“In the Time of the Dinosaur”). An emotionally fragile poet who’s no match for his down-to-earth wife finds both intellectual comfort and the ironic realization of his destiny in the life and words of persecuted Russian Jewish poet Osip Mandelstam (“I Was Only in a Childish Way Connected to the Established Order”). And Perlman mines pure narrative gold from the theme of anti-Semitism—in a black-comic portrayal of a forlorn contemporary Job (“Spitalnic’s Last Year”), and in the brilliant concluding novella “A Tale in Two Cities.” This wrenching story, set in Moscow and Melbourne, traces an expatriate Russian Jewish family’s “eternal vulnerability” to government persecution, culture shock and drug addiction, discovering hope when grieving Holocaust victims summon the strength to aid another scattered, shattered family.
Provocative and powerful fiction from one of the best new writers on the international scene.