You know that feeling when you get on a reading roll? You finish a few books in quick succession and it’s like you’ve taken on this momentum. You have to be lucky with the books you pick though or you bog yourself in something that allows itself to be put down midway through and forgotten about. Tony Birch’s second collection of short stories, Father’s Day was certainly not one of those books that you could put down for too long.
It’s a subtle yet incredibly moving collection of short fiction that’s over-arching themes can be best described as dealing with family, those on the fringes of society and characters with something missing. After reading the story ‘Shadowboxing’ and his novel Blood last year, I have come to love not just how Birch is drawn toward dealing with marginal characters, like I do in my own writing, but his realist mode of writing. It is direct and unobtrusive. The danger I find with collections of short fiction is the pause between each piece and having to immerse yourself in a new one each time. But Birch’s realism allows for you to do that easily. You are not lost each time in thick obscure description in the beginning. Birch places you in the scene clearly and immediately. It is like the author is not even there.
But I guess critics of writing like Birch’s would argue that there is no art to it, and Birch often breaks the rule that you’re meant to “show not tell” but he does it so well. The statement of “fact” and the placement of those events without the intervention of the author is in itself quite moving. And to me, the style and the insignificant way in which he finishes most of his stories conveys a realism situated in the often mundane, subtle and trivial details that portray what it is to be a marginal character in society, so much so that they seem to be the kinds of stories that other writers would overlook and deem not significant enough to tell.
I’m someone who looks for books that punch you in the stomach. I look for great, cataclysmic events that leave me breathless. This collection is not like that but still leaves me thinking this is a very good collection of short stories. There are moments when pieces feel unfinished, but necessarily so and the sense of loss you get from some of them is a reaction that I think is not always the one you seek, but I think worthwhile all the same.