The Complete Stories
David Malouf’s The Complete Stories is made up of a total of thirty-one stories, several of them long enough to be called novellas. The book is divided into four segments, arranged according to the date of publication in book form. Thus, the seven works of short fiction in the first section, which is titled “Every Move You Make,” came from the book of that name, which appeared in 2006 and was written in anticipation of this volume. The second section, “Dream Stuff,” was published as a book in 2000; the third, “Antipodes,” came out in 1985; and the fourth and final section, “Child’s Play,” contains just two stories, “Eustace” and “The Prowler,” which were published in 1982 along with a novella, “Child’s Play.” The novella, which had also appeared in an earlier volume, was not included in this collection.
Whether his novels are set in his native Queensland, Australia, like the autobiographical Johnno (1975) and Remembering Babylon (1993), or at a distance, like An Imaginary Life (1978), which follows the Roman poet Ovid into his exile in a Black Sea village, Malouf always includes as one of his themes the presence of the past. In the works of short fiction that appear in his Complete Stories, Malouf again emphasizes this theme. In fact, like the short fiction of the Irish writer James Joyce and the New Zealander Katherine Mansfield, a typical story by Malouf builds toward an epiphany, or revelation, which casts new light on past events and provides a basis for the protagonist’s future thoughts and actions.
This pattern is illustrated in “The Valley of Lagoons.” For years, the narrator Angus has watched as his neighbors, the McGowans, set off on their annual hunting trips into the swampy wilderness known as the Lagoons; for years, his father has made him refuse their invitation to come along. Finally, when he is sixteen, Angus is allowed to go. One of the boys in the party is his friend Braden McGowan. Another is Braden’s older brother Stuart, who is desperately in love with Angus’s sister Katie. Though Angus would far rather be with Braden, who has the same intellectual interests as he does, he cannot get away from Stuart, who has evidently decided that by becoming Angus’s friend, he can get closer to Katie. In Angus’s presence, Stuart deliberately shoots himself in the thigh, hoping that Angus will report his manliness to Katie, along with the fact that he is willing to endure pain or even to risk death for her sake. On the way home, Angus realizes that he does not really know Stuart or Katie or even Braden. However, he does suspect that Katie will not be impressed by Stuart’s sacrifice. He also realizes that, in one way, he resembles Stuart more than the other two. Once they leave the area, neither Katie nor Braden will return. By contrast, though he, too, will leave, Angus will always be drawn back to the wilderness and its simple values.
Such revelations do not come only to children. In “Elsewhere,” a widower, Harry Larcombe, plans to represent the family at the funeral of his stepdaughter Debbie, which will be held in Sydney, where she lived. Since Debbie’s younger sister Helen feels that she should not leave her young children for an all-day trip, her husband, Andy Mayo, who is a fellow miner and longtime friend of Harry, offers to go with him. From that point on, the story is really Andy’s. At thirty-three, Andy has been to Sydney only once, and that was for a rugby match. Though he had met Debbie only twice, he gathered that her world was much more exciting than his. Now he has his chance to enter that world. However, at the wake after the funeral, when a strange woman makes a move on him, Andy realizes that he is not the free spirit he had believed himself to be; in fact, though he cannot help responding to her, he is put off by her aggressiveness. With a new knowledge of who he is and where he belongs, he drives Harry home. However, though he has had enough of Sydney, he now realizes that even in the familiar world to which he is returning, and despite the fact that he has a wife and children, essentially he will...
(The entire section is 1699 words.)