Selected Stories by Vincent O’Sullivan (Victoria University Press, 2019), 592 pp., $40
Grove’s face wasn’t injured, as far as you could tell, but it curved in on one side, so that his left temple and jaw were at least an inch further out than his left cheek. Whether he talked or smiled, his lips on that side stayed straight and together, and the right side of his face moved by itself. And there were two deep lines that ran from beside his nostrils almost to the end of his chin. He wasn’t scarred or hideous or funny. You didn’t want to laugh at his face and you didn’t want to say you felt sorry for him. But I can’t remember being in any company with him when people didn’t tend to look at him rather than at anyone else. They wouldn’t let on, but they were absorbed by his dent.
It’s the best possible opening for this collection, and perhaps the best way to frame a review of Vincent O’Sullivan’s Selected Stories. The opening paragraph of ‘Grove’ – a story taken from O’Sullivan’s 1978 collection, The Boy, The Bridge, The River – sets the tone and progression of this collection, which spans nearly forty years of short stories. It also tells us to pay attention to the obvious and not-so-obvious details of the characters we encounter – that each individual deserves a second, or third, or many-times-more look. Finally, this opening paragraph suggests that looking at characters might mean, also, looking closely at how they look at each other, how they are viewed by other characters. The art of observation highlights our flaws, our idiosyncrasies – also our connections, our warmth. We’re all in this story together, O’Sullivan seems to say. [Read more…]