Title: When There’s Nowhere Else to Run
Author: Murray Middleton
Genre: Contemporary Short Stories
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: 22nd April 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars
In one way or another, isn’t everyone on the run?
A survivor of Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires takes asylum with old friends in the Dandenong Ranges. An editor-in-chief drives his sister halfway around the country to an east-coast rehabilitation clinic. A single mother flies to Perth with her autistic son for one last holiday. A father at the end of his tether tries to survive the chaos of the Sydney Royal Easter Show. A group of young friends hire a luxury beach house in the final weeks of one of their lives. A postman hits a pedestrian and drives off into the night.
When There’s Nowhere Else to Run is a collection of stories about people who find their lives unravelling. They are teachers, lawyers, nurses, firemen, chefs, gamblers, war veterans, hard drinkers, adulterers, widows and romantics. Seeking refuge all across the country, from the wheat belt of Western Australia, the limestone desert of South Australia, the sugarcane towns of Queensland, the hinterland of New South Wales to the coastline of Victoria, they discover that no matter how many thousands of kilometres they put between themselves and their transgressions, sometimes there’s nowhere else to run.
I don’t generally read a lot of short stories, but after winning this lovely collection in a Good Reading competition, I am going to have to start reading more. This collection is just divine – my biggest complaint? It just didn’t last long enough!
The stories’ themes are all incredibly different – I did find it a little jarring moving from one to the other straightaway. It would probably have been better to read in instalments, rather than all at once!
My favourite was definitely the title story – When There’s Nowhere Else to Run. A group of young friends hire a beach house for the last weeks of one of their lives. I read it during my lunch break and came back to work sniffling. It was devastating! But still so brilliant.
I wasn’t such a fan of Burnt Hill Farm, which covered two families over the years at their joint holiday home. The voices kept swapping and it felt very disjointed, compared with the smooth sailing of the other stories. It was also one of the longer pieces. I did like the experimental style though – the literary differences between the stories were interesting. It does have a literary element – not enough to put me off, as I sometimes am, but just enough for me to appreciate the structure and style rather than just the tales.
The last time I tried to review short stories (with Dangerous Women), I reviewed each separately, but then again, I STILL haven’t finished that over a year later. This small collection was much more manageable and, because the author was the same, it was easier to move from story to story. His style did change occasionally, but the genre remained the same.
It is a beautiful collection, well-deserving of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. It has not only touched me with its absolutely gorgeous prose, but it has inspired me to find and read more short story collections, particularly by Australian authors.
Everyone will take something away from this collection. The characters and themes are quintessentially Australian, but also incredibly universal. Incredibly emotional and beautifully written, this is a stunning and simple read.