Books

‘The Furphy Anthology 2020’: the best tall tales and short stories from across the land

Distilled from more than 800 entries, The Furphy Anthology 2020 assembles some of the country’s freshest literary talent, offering unique takes on ‘Australian Life’.

The Furphy Literary Award has been running since 1992 and became a national competition in 2020. This gathering of more than 800 stories resulted in a stunning new artefact: The Furphy Anthology 2020.

The published anthology represents the cream of the crop, including the winner, Ruby Todd’s Awakening, the highly commended Pub Raffle by Ya Reeves, Ando Gets Plastered by Cate Kennedy and 13 more that made it to the shortlist. How does this collection of short stories fare when tackling the impossibly broad brief of ‘Australian Life’?

The Furphy Anthology

Of course, the concept of an ‘Australian Life’ is one that’s laughably difficult to conceive, let alone render with any elegance on the page. Thankfully, the anthology presents deeply personal, imaginative, and adventurous stories of love, life, real and illusory histories, with the diversity of Australia as its backdrop.

Take the winner of the competition, Awakening by Ruby Todd. The very real history of the Melbourne-Voyager maritime disaster forms the context, onto which a story of the ambivalence of love is elegantly superimposed. Or the intergenerational spectre of the mafia that chases an old man to the middle of nowhere in The Tailor of Gilgiddy Sidings. Or Volkswagens, in which a mother faces the prospect of a breast cancer diagnosis, amidst the banality of suburban supermarkets.

There are, however, stories in which the elemental power of Australia imposes itself more dramatically on the narrative. This is most successfully achieved in Pub Raffle by Ya Reeves — which deals with the nightmare scenario of being trapped by a bushfire. The simultaneous sensory overload and deprivation, people strung out by eternal vigilance, and the plain, god awful tension is expertly captured by Reeves, again and again, in passages like this:

“Dad was off the roof now and Craig gripped him in one of those vice-like embraces intended to scream, I’m a strong man, but that actually screams, let’s smash this emotion between our chests and maybe people won’t see.”

Like all great short stories, the examples in this collection manage to soak up the vast landscape of human experience and artfully repackage it in the form of digestible vignettes. And while the brief of ‘Australian Life’ is an admirable source of inspiration, these tales will transport you beyond the confines of any nation.

The Furphy Anthology 2020 is out now via Hardie Grant.