Geoffrey Maloney, Six Silly Stories. Elastic Press, 2008. Pp. 64. £3.00.Reviewed by Craig Bellamy
Six Silly Stories by Australian author Geoffrey Maloney is a collection of six short fairytale stories that subvert commonplace, everyday situations. The stories are brief and morbid, only at times rescued by the shear absurdity of the situation. The characters are threadbare, gloomy and tragic, and leave the reader with an eerie sense of loss rather than the buoyancy gained through having a giggle or a laugh. Perhaps there is a dark sense of humour at work; but it is not always apparent. The reader often feels uneasy and unable to laugh at situations that involve such absurd human suffering.
Maloney has been writing for 20 years and like many Australian authors, it is difficult to pin him down within any genre. Perhaps this is the nature of the small writing scene in Australia where authors are broader; unable to survive in a single scene that may flourish in larger readerships such as England. He has been known to write dark fantasy and ‘future political histories’ and in his own words if there is a unifying charter to his work it is that “I’m always keen to put my characters into odd situations and see how they deal with it. Basically, they need to suffer or at least be terribly confused by what is happening to them” (see Tabula Rasa interview ). I tend to like this about his characters, and indeed this tactic to subvert the banal. This refusal to leave the reader in a comfortable known position surrounded by the prosaic attachments is not the safest path for an author, even in a field as weird as speculative fiction.
In Six Silly Stories there is the story of a woman in an office who has powerful perfume that renders passers-by unconscious—including the repugnant corporate boss. There is the story of a raunchy party on an aeroplane whilst the engines burn, a man dances on the wing, and ants strip the pilot's flesh bare. There is a story of indifferent voyeurs in an office tower who watch the ‘down-on-their luck’ residents in the tower-block next door whilst making wagers on the chances of them jumping to their death. This story is treated with caviller indifference and if there is humour there, then it is dark humour set against a night sky. There is a story of a man trying to get a job as an ant-catcher (that doesn’t really make sense at all); a story of a man levitating in a doctor’s surgery, and finally, the story of a rather dull character riding on the bus where he finds true love in the back of the head of the lady in front of him. Looking at the back of someone’s head on the bus may be something we have all done, but still this story didn’t really cross any conceptual boundaries for me. It still remains absurdly normal.
My personal favourite is ‘Miracle at 30 000 Feet’, the story about the raunchy party on the aeroplane. Whilst reading it was searching for a meaning, for a moral to the story, to something that my subjugated work-a-day practical mind could take away and apply to a useful and meaningful task. But it wasn’t about this. It was silly and absurd. It was meaningless! It takes one of the most rigidly practical and behaviourally-strict environments imaginable; this is mundane modern air travel, and turns it into a riotous feast of Armadillos, ants, a naked nun and drunken priest, and a mysterious grim-reaper type character in a wide-brimmed hat warning the narrator that the plane’s engines are on fire. This is a modern fairytale without the childish innocence; it is gibberish, surreal and visual, almost caustic in its subversion of the mass-produced mind with its particular modes of situational behaviour. The narrator asks ‘is there a Bolivian on board’ (the plane is in fact flying to South America) and a Bolivian puts up his hand. The narrator asks if he is carrying an Armadillo, to which the Bolivian answers yes. The Armadillo is then used to eat the killer ants that have in turn eaten the pilots. Perhaps this is a happy ending; I am not sure—I will think about it when I am flying to Cairo next month. At least I will have something to think about on the plane (whilst looking at the head in front of me), that is a little more intrepid than the mundanely blended world of air travel.
A little irrational spark here and there, a few silly stories to stir up the muck a few absurd images to subvert the ‘normal-o-pathic’ path on the long tedious journey to being, well, normal. Maloney has succeeded at doing this, if this is what he intended to do. The whole collection is a bit patchy with some stories standing out more than others, but still the whole silly collection is worth reading if your thinking, like mine, needs a little jolt every now and again. I just wish I could have laughed a bit more.