March 22, 2016
Such a thrill to have my book reviewed in the ABR. If not for the ABR and the Elizabeth Jolley Fiction Prize in 2013, there may well have been no book to review.
Leaving Elvis and Other Stories
by Michelle Michau-Crawford
UWA Publishing, $24.99 pb, 156 pp, 9781742588025
Leaving Elvis and Other Stories by Michelle Michau-Crawford
Reviewed by Francesca Sasnaitis • March 2016, no. 379
Michau-Crawford’s accomplished début collection bears comparison to Tim Winton’s impressionistic The Turning (2005) and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (2008), though Leaving Elvis is properly neither the portrait of place nor of a single character. The place might be any dilapidated small town in the wheat-belt region of Western Australia. The chronological stories follow the fortunes, or more aptly the misfortunes, of a family blighted by trauma, poverty, abuse, and silence.
In ‘Getting on 1948’, the patriarch Len returns from Changi prisoner of war camp. Reuniting with his wife and daughter should be a joyful affair, but it is clear Len has lost more than his foot in the war. He has come back ‘alive but not the same’, just like his father after World War I. As with his father before him, rage and alcohol are Len’s poor defence against ‘the night terrors’. History has a terrible habit of repeating itself, and reputations, once gained, are extremely difficult to live down. Scraps of information, which the characters are at great pains to conceal from society, each other, and even themselves, are meted out as sparingly as a thriller, and with the same effect of suspense.
Michau-Crawford’s writerly ear is well attuned to the nuances of the Australian vernacular; as the focus of the stories alternates between Len, his embattled wife Evie, their daughter Olive, and her daughter Louise, she makes subtle shifts in language, which reflect the attitudes of each character and period, from the 1940s through the conservative 1950s, the radical 1970s, to the present.
The eponymous penultimate story won the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize in 2013, and would have made an admirable finale. As it is, it makes the coda of ‘Can of worms 2016’ seem extraneous – that is until the wallop of the last sentence.