I’m not normally a short story reader. Short stories often feel—to me, anyway—as though they’re trying too hard to give us some grand moral lesson in a short space of time. They feel deliberate and laboured. And then, just when I’ve given myself over to the tale, they end.
Georgia Blain’s Secret Lives of Men is the exception to that rule, though, with Blain sucking me into her short stories immediately, relinquishing me only once I’d raced from story to story in a single afternoon. The stories did, of course, end sooner than I’d hoped, but Blain’s ability to quickly and wholly immerse me in each story as I lurched from one to the next lessened that usual frustration.
In the opening tale, which gifts the collection its title, the narrator is haunted by a moment of tragic recklessness from her teenage past. ‘We always knew the locals hated us,’ is the scene-setting opening line, and Blain shows us her narrator’s age, education, affectation, and later-earned wisdom with a subtle aside on the following page. The boy the narrator was interested in:
… wore the uniform of all others, the moleskin jeans, the striped cotton shirt, but he wore it with insouciance (a word we didn’t know then)—panache, some of us said when we were drunk; style, when we were sober …
Blain dedicates the book in part to ‘Harry, the dog, who seemed to creep into my stories with as much stealth as he crept onto the couch’, and it’s hospital-visit dogs that help the second story (and dogs in general for the subsequent stories) unfold.
It’s a wrenching tale simply told—perhaps the inclusion of animals, albeit fictitious ones, lends the story an added level of emotion. Later in the book we encounter Doris, the diabetic dog delivered to a different protagonist by his junkie daughter.
The stories are understated, but its Blain’s light touch and hand-picked highlights that makes these stories strong. It’s something you’d expect from an author named as one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists and who has been shortlisted for a bunch of prestigious awards.
I’ve admittedly never read Blain’s other books, including Closed For Winter, which was both a bestseller and later made into a film. My reason for that is a she seemed a little like literary royalty (she’s Anne Deveson’s daughter) and lot too intimidatingly talented for words.
No one’s more surprised than me that I’ve come to her work via my not-favourite form of the short story. But it’s perhaps these accessible, less-terrifying tales that have opened the door for me: based on what I’ve read here, I’d like to read more.