Saturday, October 12, 2013

Thought Crimes

by Tim Richards
Black Inc. 2011

Tim Richards is a rare thing - dark, literary, Australian and published. I've read several of his books before (many years ago now), but the quality of Thought Crimes took me by surprise. These are some heavy-hitting short stories!

There are twenty-one stories here and the dark tone is set early on with "The Enemies of Happiness". A new teacher in a disadvantaged school grapples with the discovery that one of her students has had their ribs surgically removed, only so they can perform fellatio on themselves. "V2" is probably the first really great story that the reader encounters: An autistic man murders the recently released Myra Hindley and the Australian government struggles to cover it up. (I won't spoil any more of these stories for you, promise.) The creme de la creme of this collection are "Dog's Life" and "The Darkest Heart". When you find yourself reading a paragraph several times, just to savour the use of particular words, you know you are looking at some fine writing.

However, if you're looking for satisfying endings, you might not find a lot in Thought Crimes. There's a lot of abrupt, ambiguous, cryptic, and anti-climactic endings here. At first I thought Richards was simply spectacularly bad at finishing his stories, but then I realised that over half of these stories have previously appeared in literary periodicals (ie Meanjin). I now suspect that a lot of these stories have been cut down to fit the narrow specifications of the magazine editors. Maybe Richards needed to make the stories more "literary" and less "speculative" in order to get them published - and hence some of the ambiguity. 

I was in fact disappointed to find Richards doing the standard thing of thanking the various magazines at the end of the book, because it seems that in many ways these magazines are holding Richards back. I'd love to see Richards let loose on the world  beyond the narrow confines of current literary acceptability. I believe he could produce something sprawling, surrealistic and marvellous - a work of true genius. Publishers be damned!

(I'm still giving this five out of five stars though.)

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