Portable curiosities by Julie Koh

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This is a collection of quite bizarre short stories, some of which are darkly amusing, by Sydney writer Julie Koh.

Short stories are a fantastic format for experimental writing that is capable of taking the readers far out of their comfort zone. This collection is no exception, and the stories, some being uncomfortably funny, mostly left me with a feeling of distinct discomfort.

The stories cover a range of issues that highlight the malaise of modern western culture generally, but these stories focus particularly on the Australian society. Tales are told of racism, affluenza and the particularly modern plight of parents who push their children to overachieve.

Some of the stories that stood out for me included, “The Fantastic Breasts” – the title says it all, and leaves the reader with a strong sense of the author’s anger. This is about a particular man’s relationship with some fantastic breasts, his love for them and how well he treats them. However, he states, towards the end, that “…once the Fantastic Breasts begin to slouch and sag…I’ll need to begin keeping an eye out for a more youthful, more fantastic set of breasts…” Another very uncomfortable story is, “The Fat Girl in History”, which examines both female body image issues and the racist sterotype of Asian female body image. In the story, the character says, ” The problem everyone has with my body is not really that I am heavy-boned for a woman in general, but that I am heavy-boned for an Asian woman.” The character goes on to say,” I sit and think about all the white guys I’ve met lately who have yellow fever. Even they reject me now. I’m not petite and Asian enough”. Not all stories are quite so confronting. “Slow Death in Cat Cafe” is the ridiculously funny story about a group of patrons stranded in a cat cafe when the owner decides to secede from Australia and create his own micronation called the Republic of Cat Cafe.

All stories in this collection are very cleverly written, and leave the reader with many thoughts and reactions. For this reason, this book would be an ideal title for any bookclub and any reader looking for a very different style of writing.

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