Malouf, a novelist, short story writer, and poet, sets most of his
work in his native Australia. His new collection of short stories,
, is no exception. The beauty of Mr. Maloufs
fascination with Australia is in his ability to write stories in
which the setting is at least as important as character and plot.
Whether he is writing about the experience of a child, a soldier,
or a prostitute, the stories in Dream Stuff
all convey the
heat, the darkness, and the blinding light of the island continent.
This is particularly
true in Jackos Reach, one of the most unusual
stories in the collection. Jackos Reach is more
like a non-fiction article written with a remarkable depth of emotion
than a piece of fiction. It is about the effect that a four-acre
area of undeveloped, wooded land has upon several generations of
the town which it belongs toa town which has decided to build
a shopping center over the area. Early in the story, Mr. Malouf
describes the Reach as a point of re-entry to memories they
[the towns citizens] have no more use for, and then
goes on to show why it can be described in this way. Through tales
of murder and early sexual experiences in Jackos Reach, Mr.
Malouf creates a chilling sense of primeval mystery, climaxing with
the words: So it will be gone and it wont be. Like everything
else. Under. Where its darkness will never quite be dispelled, however
many mushroom-lights they install in the parking lot.
Other stories in
the collection generally have a more conventional structure. Mr.
Malouf repeatedly shows his fondness for the moment of epiphany,
but always in a convincing and moving manner. In At Schindlers,
a story about a boy, his mother, and her American lover, the moment
of realization is delayed, but the reader is always aware that it
must be coming. The boy, Jack, has been resisting the knowledge
that his father will not return from the war. He finally accepts
that knowledge in a lightning-illumined nighttime scene with some
of the elements of a ghost story. But rather than ending the story
at that point, Mr. Malouf concludes with a peaceful morning scene,
rounding out the narrative in a satisfying way.
The stories contain
many descriptions which are so perfectly written that they stay
in the mind even after the plot may have been forgotten. In Lone
Pine, a man camping in the outback with his wife comes face
to face with a murderer: In all that emptiness, with not a
house for a hundred miles in any direction and in the dead of night,
they had come at the same moment to opposite sides of the caravan
door. It is hard to imagine how the vastness of Australia
and the danger of the moment could have been conveyed more effectively.
Great Day, about a family reunion, includes several
powerful images of light and fire: a fire which destroys the towns
treasured museum, a dying bonfire on the beach, and finally: the
of a new day coming, the light that fills the world.
Mr. Malouf conveys
some important ideas without a hint of didacticism: the possibility
of finding real love in Sallys Story, the pain
caused by the conflict between religious beliefs and the natural
love amongst family members in Closer, and the power
of memory, a recurring theme in his stories. Above all, he is an
exquisite prose artist who is always a pleasure to read. If his
works ever cause the reader pain, it is because of their beauty
and the sometimes difficult truths that they contain.