The Big Issue : Edition 574
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 2–15 NOV 2018 35 THE SHORT STORY is a fickle beast, testing and strengthening a writer’s resolve and skill. And the short story remains A.S. Patrić’s pride, where focus is not on brevity, but the ability to tell a story within a framework. Not that his ability to tell a story is in question: Patrić won the Miles Franklin Award in 2016 for his debut novel, Black Rock White City. In the past decade, the Serbian- born, Melbourne-based writer has published two novels and three short story collections, including his newest release, The Butcherbird Stories. The title story, incidentally, was originally published in The Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition in 2014. Eleven tales in all, The Butcherbird Stories is grave in tone, exploring how we relate to one another and find meaning through connection. This is a seeming continuation from his earlier work: Black Rock White City follows two refugees from the former Yugoslavia trying to rebuild their lives in late 90s Melbourne; his second novel, Atlantic Black, is set on an Atlantic Ocean liner in 1939, depicting a mother and daughter swept up in the tragedies of their past. Patrić says developing The Butcherbird Stories gave him a sense of maturity. “The impetus to write this collection was as a process of literary evolution. Each one of the stories, I hoped, would come from a level of being, of soul,” he says. Several of these stories thwart the expectation of what a short story should look like. ‘Avulsion’ – a concise exploration of the catastrophic suddenness of loss – and ‘Amy in #12’ – a curious denouncement of which lives are given meaning – could qualify as flash fiction. But the collection is not about meeting the definition of a form, it is about trying to tell a truer story. “When you have a book, you realise, you create stories that belong together,” Patrić explains. “The books Black Rock White City, Atlantic Black and now Butcherbird Stories are intended to form a triptych. As a writer you’re looking for a way to be in dialogue with your own work – it’s a way you continue to evolve, to develop your own work.” But while the stories have a link, winning Australia’s most prestigious literary award meant Patrić’s motivations for writing changed. “It was a challenge after winning the Miles Franklin,” he says. “If you come from the working-class suburbs, from an ethnic background, one of the major motivators is ‘Can you prove yourself, in an Anglo- dominated culture? Can your experiences also be of value to the cultural elites?’” Since the big win, Patrić’s drive to write became more about “sharing and being part of a community” than it did about proving one’s literary mettle. “Working in a bookstore is really significant,” says Patrić, who works at Readings and teaches contemporary fiction. “In a bookstore, people come in and you find it to be a place of devotion. People want to be part of a community: of writers, of other people having experiences, in different parts of the world – whether it’s in Russia 200 years ago, or in Japan five years ago – it is the human experience in general.” When asked about specific influences that stayed with him while writing this collection, Patrić mentions Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić – referred to as the “patron” saint of Black Rock White City. He also cites The Dubliners by James Joyce, particularly its final story ‘The Dead’, as a major influence. “As that story builds up to a crescendo, suddenly, all of the elements of the collection start to resonate and are lifted to a higher level because of the novella at the end,” Patrić says excitedly, his hands gesturing. “When I started writing ‘The Flood’, that was the idea: to write this final story, but in some way, bring every part of the collection into focus and give it all a certain kind of gravity.” ‘The Flood’ originated from a morning in which Patrić was driven by cab to his radio interview the morning after winning the Miles Franklin. “We drove to the radio station, he dropped me off, and I thought, what an interesting perspective that would be: someone who sees the world coming in, leaving his car.” Similarly, Franz Kafka’s The Trial should be read in parallel with Patrić’s ‘Among the Ruins’, which ends as the trial is about to begin. The story was “intended to be a farce”, examining the good-versus-bad dichotomy via the surreal existence of a professional rogue, Bruno Kramzer. Just like Kafka, it may not appear so on the surface, but Patrić insists Black Rock White City was intended to be funny, despite its grimness. And as a collection of very industrious stories, what’s most illuminating in the end about The Butcherbird Stories is Patrić’s absurdist, tragic humour. by Marta Skrabacz » The Butcherbird Stories is out now. THE SHORT OF IT PHOTOBYBLEDDYNBUTCHER A.S. PATRIĆ HAS CAPTURED READERS, AND AWARDS, WITH HIS DARK TALES OF HUMAN CONNECTION. HIS NEWEST BOOK OF SHORT STORIES IS SET TO CONTINUE THAT TREND. WHEN ASKED ABOUT SPECIFIC INFLUENCES, PATRIĆ MENTIONS YUGOSLAV NOVELIST IVO ANDRIĆ AND THE DUBLINERS, BY JAMES JOYCE.