Just finished a short story collection called 'Shadowboxing' based on California Dreamer's review in the 50 books thread. Here's his original:
Shadowboxing is a series of linked stories about Michael Byrne, a young boy growing up in Melbourne's working-class inner suburbs of Fitzroy and Richmond. Michael is the son of an abusive father, who is a renowned drunk and brawler. The stories are in chronological sequence, and follow a narrative arc that starts with Michael as a very young boy terrified of his father and follows his transition to adulthood and a very different father-son relationship. This narrative arc makes the book read very much like an episodic novel, with re-occurring characters and events that are referred to and have implications in later stories.
I particularly enjoyed The Bulldozer, The Sea of Tranquility and Ashes, all of which touch on aspects of working-class life in a credible and heartfelt fashion. All of the stories engage the reader's interest and Birch's characters are empathetic and believable. He resists the urge to demonise Michael's father, which makes the final story much more effective. Shadowboxing is a slice of Melbourne's history and social life that rings true and is highly readable and rewarding.
Here's my thoughts:
CD's review broadly covers this book: a cycle of short stories covering one man's growing up and growing old in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. My father grew up in the suburbs over from where this book is set, at the exact same time, so it was something that was incredibly personally satisfying and illuminating for me. While Dad's parents were teetotallers, he's told MANY stories about the abuse and alcoholism that defined many of his friends' lives.
The prose is competent and straightforward, minimal flourishes, and minimal minimalism, but there's a very humanistic streak that runs through these stories. They don't condemn the characters, the society or the time, but simply revel in what was. I liked it a lot. Thanks for the recommendation CD.
This was an excellent piece of fiction, and something I hope to see more of in Australia. It's iconic (in the sense that the locations are instantly recognisable and familiar for anyone who grew up in Melbourne), but the stories reveal a lot about those places before they were gentrified in the 80s and 90s. For people curious about Australia, I'd really recommend this book, and for people who live, have lived, or visited Melbourne this is an essential read.
(co-incidently, if you're interested in Australia and haven't read 'the Messenger' I'm a bit confused)