Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Rooftop Sutras

by Levin Diatschenko
Undergrowth Inc 

This deserves to be the Australian small press book of the year. [Well anyway, I really like it.] The Rooftop Sutras is a collection of thirteen short stories which share similar themes and settings. Diatschenko's characters are typically marooned in a surreal archetypal suburbia. They seek transcendence through a bit of loose Buddhist philosophy and some imaginative escape-artist pranks.

There's at least one great concept in each of these stories, and it's usually delivered without any build up - just a deadpan two sentence paragraph. For example, the marooned hero who discovers that he has not drifted onto an island, but rather sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Or the girl who jumps off the roof insisting that flight is only a matter of willpower. Another character climbs onto the roof of his suburban home and discovers that he has accidentally climbed right out of his life. The creativity and originality had me hooked, hanging on for the next moment of brilliance.

Some of the stories however aren't polished enough. Other times there is a vague sense of self-righteousness which isn't really appropriate in a work of fiction - ie one of the characters who drinks too much is implied as being somewhat lesser than another who meditates routinely. Worth mentioning too is the fairly sloppy copy editing. There's a lot of errors in the line indents, almost one on every second page. The back cover blurb is also remarkably bad. The last line reads: "This quirky book will both entertain and baffle, leaving a lasting impression on the reader's mind." Well whose other mind would be affected? Not the sort of thing that would make me buy an unfamiliar author.

The Rooftop Sutras works because it breaks all the rules, sets out alone and tells us something new about Australia. The reinvention of suburbia as some sort of mythological wasteland is particularly satisfying.

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