Huia Short Stories 10: Contemporary Māori Fiction (Huia 2013)
It’s great to see an anthology make it to number ten. The Best of NZ Fiction seems to have stalled at six, and aside from independent publishers releasing collections from new writers, I haven’t seen a mainstream publisher release an anthology of new New Zealand writing for a long time. The Huia collection includes short stories and novel extracts submitted for the Pikihuia Awards in 2013. The categories included Best Short Story Written in English, and Te Reo, and novel extracts written in English. There is also a category for film scripts (though these are not included in the collection).
Before I go on to discuss some of the stories in the Huia collection I need to say that I don’t speak or read fluent Te Reo. I recognise a smattering of words but in no way can I fully comprehend the stories in this collection that are written in Te Reo. To the writers in this collection whose stories are written in Te Reo I apologise that I am unable to provide a more detailed review of your work. The focus of my review is on the short stories and novel extracts that are written in English.
The winner of the short story category written in English was Toni Pivac’s Joy Ride. The judges made the right decision. It stood out to me as the strongest story in the collection. The story focuses on Whata who sneaks onto the back of his Uncle’s ute. The story goes from a child wanting an adventure on a long afternoon to the child’s realisation of a change in his life. It successfully ‘showed’ through the narrative what was unfolding for Whata whereas a lot of the stories in the collection did a lot of ‘telling.’
The amount of ‘telling’ in the narrative was the most frustrating thing in the stories written in English. I wanted some authors to slow down, to take their time in the telling, to show me what was happening. If they had done so, their stories would have had more depth and therefore more resonance with the reader.
Reflections on the past and returning home were strong themes in the collection. In the first story by Aranga, the character reflects on his unhappy childhood with his adoptive parents and his search for belonging, and TJ Corrigan’s character is on a bus heading home for her father’s tangi and meets up with an actor from Once for Warriors who offers her some kindness when she needs it most, and Shelly Davies’s story relates an Uncle coming home. There are also stories that incorporate myths. I thoroughly enjoyed Arihia Latham’s story Ahikā which incorporated the story of Mahuika with the contemporary issue of fracking. There are also stories of violence; in French’s Crushing Butterflies (a novel extract) Mia visits her ill mother with her child and they talk about Mia’s abusive partner and how she feels powerless to leave him. This contemporary narrative is juxtaposed with a journal from one of Mia’s ancestor’s in which the ancestor relates her story of survival. The inclusion of novel extracts is good in that it is an outlet for new work but on the other hand it’s frustrating for the reader because you are left without the whole story.
There are also stories of enduring connection - Korohina-Bowen’s The Kumara Box shows the love between husband and wife - and of disconnection in Jacquie McRae’s story. There are also commentaries on social history; Eru Hart recollects the election of John Key as PM, but the social commentary is done more successfully in Horiana Robin’s story The University of Whakatu which recollects the transformation of a community from a freezing works town to one where some of its residents have embraced education and find their lives richer “in terms of being Māori” after the works close.
The Huia collection showcases a diverse range of stories and writers, and I look forward to next edition.