By PENELOPE BIEDER*
David Lyndon Brown, in the acknowledgments, may modestly call his writing "this daft pursuit", but his stories are anything but silly.
Living in inner-city Auckland, he has observed the life swirling around him closely enough to produce 22 poignant, clever stories.
He clearly adores the people he has conjured up, and this makes them so real on the page that I am sure I have met some of them. Their sweet vulnerability accurately mirrors the fragility of us all, soldiering on with what life throws our way. He is very funny, too, laugh-out-loud funny, but never cruel. And because he's writing about us and setting his stories in Mt Eden and Ponsonby Rd it's somehow easier to recognise that here is a good writer indeed.
Take the beginning of Spanish Steps: "Kerry rattles his bangles. He threads them all on to his right wrist when he drives the Bodgie Car, to lend glamour to his hand signals.
"The car is an ugly-shaped Velox painted a raucous Fanta colour; the sort of car that could have had flames spurting up its sides, the kind that real men drive with a sneer and an elbow out the window. The bangles add a frisson."
In short order Brown creates a mood, setting a scene of delicious, decadent late summer while also introducing a subtle subtext of impending doom. And he does it with such carefree skill that the hard work (the interior decoration) in these stories never shows.
Some of the characters turn up in more than one story. Toupeed control freak Henry James, for instance, the sartorially challenged check-out boy at Pak'N Save. His name may conjure up visions of languid, lengthy Edwardian novels about Americans in Venice, but his world (and his flattened rat toupee) is turned upside down by one too many Kamikaze drinks in the Wunderbar.
"He choked and spluttered as the virulent liquor scorched his throat. But this momentary discomfort was soon superseded by a warm green glow, rising from the pit of his stomach and percolating to the tip of each extremity. Henry James felt singularly relaxed and debonair. He uncrossed his legs. Rodney signalled to the barman for two more Kamikazes."
Gentle, coming-of-age stories, the getting of wisdom may mean periods of loneliness and dejection, and some of Brown's portraits are of those on the margins of society, outsiders looking in, only to realise that there is a life to be lived, after all.
"I think it might be Spring, Mr S. I'm going back for that magnolia."
Despite an impressive array of literary prizes, this is Brown's first published book. He has written many short stories for Radio New Zealand and his work has been published in Canada, Britain and in several NZ anthologies, and some of these reappear here.
University of Otago Press
* Penelope Bieder is a freelance writer.
By PENELOPE BIEDER*