Melinda Syzmanik The Time Machine & other stories Ahoy, The Cuba Press 2019
I remember reading short stories as a child and loving them – stories with various characters and settings and situations. Fables. Myths. Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. And in the past few years I have ADORED Joy Cowley’s Snake and Lizard (Although that has the same characters).
Melinda Syzmanik is a versatile writing whizz (The Were-Nana, The Song of Kauri, A Winter’s Day in 1939) who recently published a terrific collection of short stories (18 stories and a novella). Not surprisingly it has been shortlisted for the NZ Children’s Book Awards this year.
The writing flows like honey. The characters are catchy. The situations surprising. Sometimes there is sense of fable – not that these have animals as protagonists or they are at all surreal. No these stories are bitingly real. And that’s what I love – understated lessons on what it is to be human. Instead of dogmatic messages there are questions. The questions are like the hot bright core of story and the stories unfold about them in kaleidoscopic directions.
Here are a few favourites:
What does a cool teacher do when you just can’t sit still in class?
What do you do when you don’t have a horse but desperately want one?
What happens when you think you are hopeless at maths and your grandmother turns in the middle of the night with a recipe for soup?
What happens if you think museums are boring (maybe even the world is boring!)?
What happens when a farming family is ordered to leave their farm during WWII?
What hope is there when you are picked on as a child?
How can you find strength in being different?
So many of these questions have affected us. We can’t always fit into the rules and regulations. Surely we all suffer from self doubt at times. At not being good enough. Some of us have been bullied. Some of us have found life boring.
I love the way such important questions hide in the stories and Melinda comes up with surprising and wise responses. There will be crocodile teeth! A speeding go-kart. A time machine. A pirate’s eye patch. There is braveness and daring.
Good short story collections are like a chocolate box for me – a sweet array of different tastes that pop on your tongue – eat one and you carry the flavour all day. And then you try a different flavour. Melinda’s stories can be sweet, sharp, crunchy or smooth. They can be sad, fascinating, zinging with facts, spinning feelings and discoveries. They shine a thousand lights on what it means to be human. There are hurdles and there are joyful discoveries.
This is a chocolate treat of a book – that deserves to be an award finalist.
So a big celebratory bouquet to New Zealand’s writing whizz and her first short story collection.
The Cuba Press author page