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New Rewarding Voices: Diane Awerbuck Reviews This Year’s Short Sharp Stories, Incredible Journey: Stories that Move You

By Diane Awerbuck for the Sunday Times

Incredible JourneyIncredible Journey: Stories that Move You
Edited by Joanne Hichens (Mercury)

As with marriage, fashion and government, a short story collection is always a mixed bag. Luckily, Joanne Hichens and her dauntless crew of judges – Makhosazana Xaba, Henrietta Rose-Innes and Ken Barris – have put together a decent anthology for this year’s Short Sharp Stories Awards.

Titled Incredible Journey, the stories range from the satisfyingly literal, such as Bobby Jordan’s funny and incisive chicken-transporting “Shortcut”, to the more specifically interior pieces, such as “Memories we lost” by Lidudumalingani, a terrifying examination of mental illness based on the writer’s real-life familial experiences of this “ongoing journey”.

One rewarding aspect of reading a collection of different writers is that new voices inevitably emerge. Jumani Clarke’s “Lift Club” marks him as a brilliant addition to the writing scene, a hybrid of Niq Mhlongo and Neil Gaiman.

This year’s winner, Andrew Salomon’s “Train 124″, is equally pleasing. The story deals with a narrator who suffers obsessive-compulsive disorder, and his struggles to deal with change – especially the awful kind. Salomon’s ability to imagine himself realistically in the mind of another person is noteworthy.

Megan Ross’ “The Island” is also powerful, a high-concept Atwoodian take that answers this question: What if girls had to go away for womanhood initiation rites? While it needs some pruning of the more purple dialogue, it is absolutely perfect for a screenplay, and I hope it finds development.

South African writers are not afraid of a good metaphor, which is part of our wealth. Here Sally-Ann Murray, both poet and prose specialist, describes in “How to Carry On” the protagonist’s daughter walking a stray dog:

The dog walks haywire, veering this side and that. Yanks so hard her neck gets noosed and she hawks, a throaty snork, as if someone is trying to drown the bitch by holding her head down hard, under water, a dead weight in a barrel. But every time she surfaces, and carries on, gasping and choking, determined to be alive.

It could equally apply to the South African literary scene.

So here’s to Short Sharp Stories, and to all the other fine not-for-profits that are doing the right thing by making sure new, good fiction is getting out there. Here’s to our throaty snorks, and our determination to be alive.

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