Jeff Sparrow (editor), Overland 217 (Summer 2014)
This is Jeff Sparrow’s last Overland after seven years as editor. It’s a solid farewell performance at the end of an impressive tour, with the usual heady mix of politics, literary chat, fiction and poetry.
This issue has a lot of short fiction – the winners of two short story competitions (the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize and the Story Wine Prize) plus the runners-up of one of them (here and here), and the final piece in the Fancy Cuts series. All four prize-related stories are worth reading, especially Madelaine Lucas’s ‘Dog Story’, winner of the VU prize. In the Fancy Cuts, Ali Alizadeh’s takes on the brief of writing a story that somehow revisits one from a past Overland. He follows the same contours as his original, 1961’s ‘Taffy Was a Pacifist’ by James Aldridge, (which you can read here): an outsider immigrant child who is bullied exacts revenge with the help of an outsider adult, and in a brief coda becomes an admirable adult. Alizadeh’s title, Samira Was a Terrorist, signals the ways his work departs from the original. A girl rather than a boy, Samira exacts revenge that is much less socially acceptable than Taffy’s. The original’s moral ambiguity is deeply buried beneath a celebration of masculine virtues and skills, to surface only in the final paragraph, if at all; Alizadeh puts moral ambiguity front and centre in his much more violent, challenging and interesting tale.
Bias Australian? by John McLaren chimes nicely with Fancy Cuts’ juxtaposition of old and new Overlands. A writer for the magazine since 1956, McLaren traces the development of its cultural nationalism from its beginnings in 1954, including the evolution away from the realist fiction endorsed (required?) by Communist Party policy.
Of the non-fiction prose pieces, there are two stand-outs. The first, Happiness™ by Christopher Scanlon, explores the ways the apparently benign ‘positive psychology’ movement is being used in call centres and elsewhere in service roles, and the often deeply harmful effects it can have on employees. Not all of it is new – Scanlon quotes Arlie Russell Hochschild’s revelatory study of flight attendants, The Managed Heart: The commercialisation of human feeling (1983):
[T]he smiles are part of her work, a part that requires her to co–ordinate self and feeling so that the work seems to be effortless … part of the job is to disguise fatigue and irritation, for otherwise the labour would show in an unseemly way, and the product – passenger contentment – would be damaged.
The other stand-out is A Tale of Two Settler Colonies by Michael Brull, which compares Australia and Israel as settler colonies, and poses a substantial counter to the common (anti-Semitic?) tendency to single Israel out as somehow worse than other similar nation-states, including our own.
There are a couple of beautifully contrapuntal pieces on the writer’s life: The authentic writer self by Khalid Warsame (‘There is the fear that people will look at my name or my face and say, “Oh, right, another African writer who writes about Africa. How inspiring and nice.”‘) and Go, little book by Kirsten Tranter (‘Before The Legacy was even published it attracted attention because of my literary family background (my mother is a literary agent and my father is a poet). “If you were to put money on anyone getting published it would be Kirsten Tranter,” said one memorable notice, with the unspoken “no matter what she wrote” impossible to ignore.’).
Of the juicy ten-page poetry section, I’d single out three poems: Skater by Tim Thorne
Somewhere on a minor island something worthy
of literal tragedy plays out. Meanwhile
the circus tents are planted firmly, even though
the clowns could never be trusted
Save Behana Gorge by Phillip Hall, which felt like my childhood before I saw that it was indeed set in north Queensland:
though, when I spend time in the gorge, all I hear is the zeroing-
in of Mozzies, all I see is the spray of the torrent
as I wait for curlew to call their drawn-out wailing
and The PM and Me by Mark O’Flynn, which I read as an account of the poet’s encounter with an Aboriginal man in Sydney:
He tells me when he worked for the fish market
they paid him in crabs, which is why he went back
and robbed them. Never earned an honest dollar
in his life, he declares with misplaced pride
in the rite of passage of these years.
Unlabelled, green-tinted pages feature the ever-reliable columnists, especially Alison Croggon being intelligently reassuring about writer’s block, and Giovanni Tiso striking terror into our hearts about the end of the internet.
No 218, which is already published and sitting beside my bed, has Jacinda Woodhead in the chair.