This is the last review for Lita’s three recent reads. These short stories of rural Australia in the 1930s are not fantasy, but they nonetheless create vivid characters and worlds.
Place of Many Birds by Jan Merry has four short stories that are slice-of-life vignettes about Australia.
In the story “Before Winter Comes,” children just home from school discover a luscious chocolate layer cake left on their doorstep. Their respectful treatment of the delicious treat was a surprise. As adults will do, when their father comes home, he turns the neighbor’s kind act into a poignant reminder of their losses. It felt like Lita joined the youngsters, pressed her childhood nose against the screen door, and watched their father’s exhausted trudge up the hill to thank their neighbor.
In “Killing Time,” the widower Maurice lives a simple retired life. His well-used Peugeot bicycle whisks him through the lovely countryside and recollections of his lost wife.
We see an old man who still has a firm hand on his life’s enjoyments. It was a pleasure for Lita to join Maurice on his ride.
In “Spirit of Activity,” a lift from an ex-serviceman is a journey into the psyche of an artist. The painter’s description of a black cockatoo flying high, a long dead eucalypt refusing to let go of the soil, and even a pile of 20,000 bags of grain at Dimboola station becomes a fascinating portrait of his kindly heart. He is a bloke whose hand Lita would like to shake and then share a cold, bitter beer while he paints the Australian outback with his stories.
In the story “Place of Many Birds,” five-year-old Earle’s 1932 move from rural Cariboo to Melbourne reveals the complicated relationship between his city-girl English mother and the lad’s Australian father.
It also shows his child-like grasp of the humanity between those with modest means, and the wandering swagmen looking for a day’s honest work paid with a hot meal.
Jan Merry creates four lovely sketches with immersive descriptions in Place of Many Birds. It is a gentle journey into a well-loved and beautifully rendered rural world.