All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Zebra & Other Stories by Debra Adelaide

on February 6, 2019

Zebra & Other Stories 
Debra Adelaide
Picador
2019, 324p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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.

This is a really, really difficult book to review. Most collections of short stories are – there’s no one narrative or plot structure or character to talk about. Instead there’s a number of them, some of which the reader will connect with more than others. And that’s definitely what happened with me here.

I don’t read a lot of short stories, I must admit that. In fact, they’d make up a very, very small percentage of my reading. Maybe one collection a year. They’re not something I automatically gravitate towards and mostly I’ve read them at the request of someone. My biggest problem with short stories is that I’m just starting to get into the story…..and then it’s over. They leave me feeling a bit unsatisfied. And sometimes, they leave me feeling a bit dumb. There’s always one or two where I get to the end and sort of…..don’t get it. Anyway.

There were a few honestly, very good short stories in this book, a few that were very interesting and the aforementioned few that didn’t resonate with me or I didn’t quite get where they were going. I think that my favourite story in the collection is the one that addresses a host at Christmas time, frantically trying to make dishes that everyone coming can eat. Allergies seem much more prevalent these days than when I was a child, people are gluten free, dairy intolerant, etc. The dishes escalate to the point where they’re no longer even made from what they’re supposed to be. It was incredibly creative and entertaining with an underlying seriousness to the family drama of Christmas Day, the exhaustion of being the perfect host and catering for absolutely everybody and also missing out on the day’s activities because there’s so much to do and no one is bothering to help. I’m not the cook of my family – my husband wears that hat – but thankfully we rarely have to cater to specific dietary and allergy needs. The most we have is two fussy kids who refuse to eat pretty much everything, which is frustrating enough.

Some other stories I enjoyed…..there’s one that deals with a woman trying to get some medical help for her debilitating migraines. I’ve had two migraines in my life, the most recent one was last year and I was lucky in that it only lasted about five hours but it’s some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced and it came with the added fun of feeling so absolutely nauseous that I couldn’t move. I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience them on the regular, for days at a time. My mother used to get fairly regular migraines and she’d be out of action for about a day. It can be pretty difficult to get medical professionals to take consistent and regular pain seriously at times, but headaches sound so generic and if the person you’re speaking to has never had a bad migraine, they don’t understand. They aren’t just like bad headaches. They’re completely resistant to most painkillers and they impair function to the point where honestly, being forcibly knocked out begins to sound like a viable option. I felt that character’s frustration and pain and anger and despair like it was honestly my own.

There’s also a really sweet one about love in a bookstore that was just such a lovely little piece as well. And there’s a suicide story as well that’s really interesting (it’s linked to Chekhov in the blurb but I’ve never read Chekhov, perhaps because he’s considered so influential in the modern day short story, something I’ve already readily admitted to not seeking out. Russian short stories seem like they’d be a form of torture!).

There’s a wide variety of stories in this book – something for everyone. You may not like every single one but there’ll be something to enjoy, or a thoughtful one to mull over or a story that is applicable to your own life. For me, there were equal ones I enjoyed to ones that weren’t really my sort of thing or stories I didn’t overly connect with but it was still an interesting reading experience.

6/10

Book #21 of 2019

Zebra & Other Stories is book #4 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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