This assortment of 21 short stories—almost vignettes, ranging in length from two to five pages—covers a wide range of topics, but all share Australian settings. Many focus on characters on the brink of a change, such as marriage, death or some other life-altering transition. Although not all the stories have unhappy endings, most do; even the happier tales have a rather melancholy tone, and readers may be surprised when tragedy doesn’t befall a protagonist. In two stories, “Little Cottage in the Wood” and “Going Home,” Brooks creates such evocative, frightening settings, such as a protagonist’s ruined, ghostly hometown, that it seems she may have missed her true calling as a horror author; the former does have horrific elements, but the second story progresses harmlessly. The few romances, including “The Wedding” and “Homeward Bound,” seem too pat, almost trite, with no real conflict. In contrast, the aptly named “Malevolence,” effectively tells the story of a romance gone horribly wrong, and “Full” tells a story of a woman in her 60s who has struggled with bipolar disorder. Many stories, however, are marred by abrupt, unconvincing resolutions, and often include irrelevant details that seem like red herrings; readers may stash these facts away for future reference, only to discover their ultimate insignificance. In “Training Camp,” for example, when characters list their food insensitivities, readers will likely brace for a tragic mishap, but it never comes. On an individual basis, the stories lack profound significance, but taken as a whole, they acquire a haunting quality. Overall, they may inspire readers to evaluate the qualities of their own interpersonal relationships.
Unusual short stories, notable for their more disturbing aspects.