Mallia offers a debut collection of short stories about the lives of small-town Australians.
Over the course of this book, readers encounter a slew of seemingly separate tales of the members of a community from an imaginary town just outside Melbourne. Readers meet Bear, a trucker who cares for the children of his ex-girlfriend; Jeri, the 10-year-old son of a single mother and an absent father; Bianca, a young woman searching for her grandfather’s burial site; and Alice, a “bag lady” from the Aboriginal Wurundjeri tribe. White and Indigenous characters grapple with their identities in a culture that contains both subtle and overt racism. Secrecy is another recurring theme, and mystical elements, such as spirits, sacred land, and apparitions, are sprinkled throughout. But although each story deals with a different main character, these same players recur in other tales, sometimes revealing unexpected connections. The author employs a matter-of-fact, almost detached tone as she details these lives, giving the collection a feel that’s akin to an anthropological study at times: “Kyle had lived here for about eighteen months, was well liked by his associates and friends, and had recently bought a house on the hillside below the now defunct university.” Occasionally the author gets more tactile, though, as when she tells of a man with “a short, chunky physique, stumpy fingers always sporting a Band-Aid or two, and sandy-blond hair cropped close so the curls hugged his scalp tightly.” She also paints a rich landscape that nearly becomes a character in itself: “I could smell the eucalypts, their scarlet flowers scattered across the dry earth after a night’s feasting from flying foxes.” Even roadkill comes alive through Mallia’s masterful word choices: “Already the internal gases have started to swell the carcass so that it looks like a prickly piñata.”
An informational, if not entirely immersive, cross section of the Australian population.