Review: Zebra and Other Stories, by Debra Adelaide

James Arbuthnott

Adelaide’s sharp, casual, to-the-point sentences are both silently aesthetic on the page and a pleasure to read aloud.
Review: Zebra and Other Stories, by Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide's Zebra and Other Stories.

As a novella of just over 120 pages long, Zebra alone stands out as its own literary exploit. Written by the author of 2008’s A Household Guide to Dying, Debra Adelaide, associate professor of creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney, furthers her motif of the dark and humorous in everyday life.

Zebra and Other Stories is ordered into first, second and third-person narratives, perhaps due to Adelaide’s academic approach to storytelling – although she doesn’t flaunt or flex her strengths as a writer; she breaks the rules she wants to, when she wants, while following the rules she likes most.

A cutlery draw hangs open ‘like an imbecile’s jaw’ in the nineteen-page short story, A Fine Day, a Chekhovian story about a suicide pact. Dismembering, perhaps more Dostoevskian, narrates a remorseful murder and mutilation, although she can’t recall where she buried the body in the backyard.

‘… I didn’t know if it wore trousers or shorts. Which I should have, if I had been sawing the legs off at the knee. You would think you would notice a detail like that… Then I wondered if dismembering had anything to do with remembering. Was it remembering’s antonym? Its evil twin?’

Adelaide’s sharp, casual, to-the-point sentences are both silently aesthetic on the page and a pleasure to read aloud. Her understanding of irony self-consciousness is perhaps most forward in her instructional guide to cooking Christmas lunch in Festive Food for the Whole Family. In it, she details our modern must for sensitivity over festivity while squeamishly wine matching a severed and prepared penis (apparently, it’s the pinot noir).

Zebra takes the voice of a somewhat utopian idea of a Prime Minister of Australia who cares about the less fortunate, renewable energy and, intuitively, the Murray-Darling Basin. The PM is also occupied by relations with her neighbour and staff, building a maze, transforming The Lodge and her new pet zebra.

Gardens, refrigerators, kitchens and everyday tasks appear frequently in Zebra and Other Stories to remind readers to find meaning in their environments. Adelaide’s work notes the feeling of commonplace events and mixes it with a kind of magical realism, helping readers overcome any sense of purposelessness or anxiety. And while the collection of short stories that appear before Zebra can be hit-or-miss for some readers, they are sure to find at least a few that stick with them afterwards.

Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆

Zebra and Other Stories
By Debra Adelaide

Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781760781699
Pub Date: 29/01/2019
Category: Fiction & related items / Short stories
Fiction & related items / General
Imprint: Picador Australia
Pages: 336
Price: $29.99
Pan Macmillan Australia

 
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

James Arbuthnott is a Melbourne journalist and book reviewer at Arts Hub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot