Review: The Butcherbird Stories By A S Patrić

Erich Mayer

Patrić uses the short story form to perfection and is no less adept with the novella.
Review: The Butcherbird Stories By A S Patrić

A S Patrić's The Butcherbird Stories published by Transit Lounge.

The butcherbird is an Australian native renowned for its singing; it has even inspired a musical work played by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. In The Butcherbird Stories, A S Patrić demonstrates that his imagination is as wide-ranging and boundless and special as the butcherbird’s songs.

The 11 stories in this collection are for the most part firmly rooted in Australia, mostly in Melbourne. Patrić uses the short story form to perfection and is no less adept with the included novella. In each of the stories, his language is gentle, easy-flowing and persuasive, and yet delivers a message with the force of a punch to the head that you may or may not have seen coming. 

The titles of the stories are intriguing. Sometimes, as in ‘The Bengal Monkey’ and ‘HB’, they refer to a key aspect of the story. Other times, as in ‘Butcherbird’ and ‘Dead Sun’, they hint at the mood. In ‘The Rothko’, the title becomes an explanation, although it’s possible that many readers will already be aware that Frank Sinatra, who features in this story, had Mafia connections and was a collector of fine paintings.

In 'Punctuated Air', Patrić evokes middle-class outer-suburban Melbourne at the time of his childhood, and makes us feel the hot sun and smell the concrete and enjoy the local swimming pool, back when a backyard swimming pool would have been unheard of.

In the same story Patrić also mines his own personal history. He was born in Belgrade, Serbia but celebrated his second birthday in Australia. He writes, ‘I began learning English in primary school, so I suppose I would have been five when I began speaking it, though I don’t remember a pre-English history.’ He continues: ‘It’s a strange circumstance when you devote yourself to a language that does not belong to your parents. Because a writer does not simply use the language; a writer becomes the language.’ It is clear that Patrić does not want to identify as an exophonic writer, perhaps because his love of Australia is so strong or perhaps because English is his de facto first language.

The longest of the stories in this collection is the novella ‘Among The Ruins’. It is set in Belgrade and explores tenderness and violence, hooliganism and comradeship, and much else. It includes a fascinating discussion about the biblical story of Jonah and the whale in which one of the characters sympathises with Jonah’s disillusionment with God, at whom Jonah is angry ‘unto death’.

If ever a collection of stories demands to be on your bedside table or a valued companion on a journey, this is it. The stories in it are neither amusing nor crowded with humour. On the contrary, they might make you shudder, but they shine a light on the human condition and on many of the challenges that confront us.

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

The Butcherbird Stories
By A S Patrić
Transit Lounge Publishing
Format: ISBN: 978-1-925760-10-1 Trade hardback with dust jacket 256pp
Rights: World Rights
Release / Publication Date: 01 /11 /2018

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog humblecomment.info