Title: Zebra and Other Short Stories
Author: Debra Adelaide
Published: 29th January 2019
Synopsis:A body buried in a suburban backyard.
A suicide pact worthy of Chekhov.
A love affair born in a bookshop.
The last days of Bennelong.
And a very strange gift for a most unusual Prime Minister…
Tantalising, poignant, wry, and just a little fantastical, this subversive collection of short fiction – and one singular novella – from bestselling author Debra Adelaide reminds us what twists of fate may be lurking just beneath the surface of the everyday.
In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of humanity and the human condition, from a dream about a murder, and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, and suicide pacts, and an interesting story about the last days of Bennelong – a man who was captured and served the governor of New South Wales and travelled back to England, told from the perspective of Governor Phillips’ wife. Finally, the novella-length story Zebra is about an unnamed female Prime Minister in Australia who is gifted a zebra – and how this changes her and her life, and her relationships with those around her in government and her neighbours.
Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition, and how we respond to the world and people around us, and how we handle ourselves. They are subversive, touching on the things we do not speak about, or the things about ourselves that we have to hide from the public, or the public persona versus the private persona and how we reconcile these. Or, the lengths humans go to in order to ensure their quirkier, fantastical aspects of their lives are kept private, and hopefully not released. This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each perspective has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To make this connection, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – that represent which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave, and unique – it is something I have never seen before and where some might think it takes away, I think it makes each story, each section and finally, the entire anthology more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives, you always find yourself engrossed wholly in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.
If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra – about a female PM. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, and varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Zebra was my favourite because I enjoyed the way the PM dealt with her neighbour, her staff members and everything in her life – too many to quote, I think. I liked that she was allowed to be human in her own world – we were allowed to see the vulnerabilities of politicians we never see in the media, such as when she was contemplating whether she should call Malcolm on a work pretence, but really, she just wanted to tell him how she felt.
Each character can represent people at different stages of life, or at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The subtlety in each story is excellent and enjoyable. It allows the reader to imagine some of what happened without completely explaining it, and this is the power of the stories in this anthology – that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they might handle things, and what happens in the story.
Debra Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.
Short story collections are often hard to review, because they don’t always necessarily always link through a theme. In Zebra, the only discernible link is the subversiveness of the stories and characters, and the fantastical elements and quirkiness that feels uniquely Australian that connects these stories. I found this to be very effective, and it allows for the stories to be read in isolation, or as whole, seeing the progression of human nature and tearing ourselves away from our normal, everyday lives that might feel suffocating or claustrophobic. Debra Adelaide allows readers to feel like they were in that enclosed space with the characters until that final release of what constrains the characters, the narrators of the stories, and this release is like a weight lifting off the reader’s chest.
I quite enjoyed these stories and their uniqueness that showed another side of human life. Each story is tightly plotted and tells the whole story succinctly in a way that feels like a novel or epic story.
An excellent read if you enjoy short stories.