by Courtney Sina Meredith
The Tail… is made up of 18 short stories, some flash-fiction length, none very long. As many are a fusion of prose and poetry, short pieces could be a better description.
These are not tales to be read through lightly – they demand and deserve concentration on what is being said, and how it is said.
In the first, there’s a reference to someone needing help to understand the meaning of a subject – wanting an associate to help connect the dots. In another, a character is said to be good at colouring in the blank space between words and people. That idea gives a fair hint to what may be required of the reader.
The second story, on first reading, looks to be idiosyncratic, random. Then you catch on, go back and reread. What first appeared as random thoughts work themselves into conversation that uncovers much about a relationship.
Other pieces are puzzles that reveal themselves once you take the trouble to work them out. Take note of formatting for clues – regular or italic font, darkness and lightness of the lines. Appreciate the frequent repetition and note the insertions.
Further on, other stories are set out like conversations, and between the exchanges backstory, depth, and feelings come to light. These ones I find the most effective – I can see the speakers, see into them as they reveal themselves through their words.
There’s even one formatted as a play, with characters and stage directions –
April should be played by a male in his twenties and Grandpa should be a
petite Tahitian woman wearing pearls. Ios should bark because he’s a
This collection doesn’t hesitate to challenge the reader.
As much as the stories are puzzles, so are the characters who people them – torn by conflicting thoughts, each one seriously attempting to work out life and where they fit into it.
Locations vary. Characters are or have been in New Zealand, Samoa, Australia, England, Europe, America. Between members of family, friends, lovers, there’s dislocation, separation, yet often with continuing connection across distances. Dreams and words are common motifs, as are food and drink, art and literature. Yet there’s conundrum here too as in more than one story a character criticizes artistic/literary artifice.
It’s an attractive hard-cover book, gold-coloured, stiffly bound – not a volume for bed-reading. To appreciate this collection fully, you’ll need patience, good eyesight and a well-lighted spot in which to sit. Some stories are on dark coloured paper with indistinct lettering. Even in the case of some on white stock, words are deliberately hard to decipher in parts – much as in life.
Tail of the Taniwha is a literary collection, but one that repays effort put into grappling with it. By the time I’m at the end I’m thinking the volume is something of an examination, a test of the reader. When you’ve gone through the stories more than once, and feel you have had a rewarding reading experience, I expect you’ve passed the test.
Author: Courtney Sina Meredith
Publisher: Beatnik Publishing