Review: Trick of the Light by Laura Elvery, UQP

Erich Mayer

One of the stories is a spine-chilling reminder of the effect of unintended consequences.
Review: Trick of the Light by Laura Elvery, UQP

Laura Elvery's Trick of the Light published by UQP.

The short story that lends its name to the title of this collection is a powerful allegory about dangerous inventions. Told light-heartedly in the first person, it is a spine-chilling reminder of the effect of unintended consequences. A number of the other stories deal with the relationships of teachers to students and of students and young people with one another.  The protagonist of one tongue-in-cheek story has many partly remembered reincarnations. The subjects covered by the stories include an unexplained suicide, recollections of watching the live broadcast on television of the first people to walk on the moon, pregnancy, compassion for a wounded fledgling bird, shoplifting, vulnerability, pollution, frustration, and dealing with failure. 

Elvery has a good eye for detail and her observation of human nature is astute. It is a pity then, that with one exception, the stories in this collection are told in the first person in the same voice, giving the impression that Elvery is the person telling each of the stories instead of her fictional character. That is, of course, more noticeable if you read the stories one after another which is what happens when reading for the purpose of a review such as this. As has often been said, books of short stories are not necessarily meant to be read like a novel.

But there is much to like in this collection. The perceptive insights into family life with its ups and downs and the complex relationships of parents with their grown-up children are explored with a depth of understanding. This is enhanced by Elvery’s flair for description, whether of scenery or of actions: 

Past the locked cabinets with the skulls is the stairwell, and I see dozens of people moving back and forward and up and down the escalators. Two identical security guards dart past. Their hands grip their belts where they have batons, not guns. They run, leading with their shoulders. 

One of the challenges for the short story writer is to find a title for each story that encapsulates its essence or is at least is a teaser to whet the reader’s appetite – but preferably both. The titles for the 24 stories in this collection do both those things.

What many of the stories have in common is that they feature young women and are told from their point of view. That makes reading them doubly worthwhile for men of all ages.

Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆
Trick of the Light 
By Laura Elvery

Category: Fiction
Release Date: 27/02/2018
Pages: 272
ISBN: 978 0 70 22 6 0
University of Queensland Press
AUD $ 22.95

 
 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

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