from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Three Can Keep a Secret: Flash Fiction by Western Australian Writers’, edited by Laura Keenan and Linda Martin

Keenan, Laura and Linda Martin (eds.). Three Can Keep a Secret: Flash Fiction by Western Australian Writers. Night Parrot Press, 2022. RRP: $20.00, 214pp, ISBN: 9780648706359.

Jen Bowden

It’s little wonder that flash fiction is growing in popularity. Though it may be short in stature, the form is gathering an increasing number of fans in writers, publishers and readers. Nowhere has this trend been embraced more fully than at Western Australian publishing house Night Parrot Press, as it continues to build on its reputation for producing critically acclaimed short story collections and microfiction anthologies. Three Can Keep a Secret is their latest, following on from Once and Twice Not Shy, and it represents the best $20 you’ll spend in a long time: despite the brevity of these stories, there is much more to them than initially meets the eye.

The contents page announces a mix of familiar names—Laurie Steed, Gillian O’Shaughnessy, Emily Paull, Sabrina Dudgeon-Swift—and some which are lesser-known, such as Shannon Meyerkort, Melanie Hobbs and Jay Chesters. But, thanks to collections like Three Can Keep a Secret, these writers may soon emerge from under the radar.

Laura Keenan and Linda Martin’s varied selection is part of what makes the work collectively gripping, as the range of stories plays in your mind long after reading. These stories delve into death, life, hope, humour, love, family, relationships and much, much more. Trying to pinpoint a favourite is like trying to choose a favourite flower from a stunning bouquet: they each have their own unique beauty and bring joy in different ways.

It’s easy to see from a brief selection the quality of the work contained within these pages. In ‘The Funeral’, Meyerkort reels you in with a killer opening line: ‘The deceased’s mother first alerted me to the problem.’ From there, the imagery is immediate: within a sentence we’re placed in a congregation observing a mother who in turn is observing something shocking about her dead child: ‘There had been a strangled gasp in amongst the wet sobs. She sucked in her breath and glanced at me with a combination of horror and confusion. I’d seen that look once before’ (157). We don’t know the age or gender of the child, or whether the denouement will be horrifying or comical, but it’s this constant dive into the unknown that makes the stories in this collection so absorbing. Meyerkort’s economical use of language builds a clear picture of what is happening and where it’s happening, while still leaving enough to the imagination to pull the reader deeper.

It was also a real pleasure to be immersed in the graceful, evocative prose of Laurie Steed’s ‘Here on Earth’, which, at its core, is a tale of loss, grief and humanity. Steed’s knack for pinpointing just the right language to evoke a particular emotional response is present throughout:

The young man walked on, and in time he found himself on the street on which he lived, only it didn’t look the same. The trees, too green, their leaves dancing in the streetlight, and the sky too clear, as though they had forgotten to paint in the clouds. He continued talking to his friend, not as crazy as it sounds, although the answers weren’t exactly free-flowing. (52)

The young man’s journey through a once-familiar place is changed by grief, an experience both relatable and heart-wrenching. We are on the ground with him, feeling the earth beneath our feet but wondering why it all went so wrong. Steed’s powers of observation, as well as his ability to lay bare the complexities of modern masculinity, make this a poignant and touching story.

One of the most haunting tales in the collection is Anne-Louise Dubrawski’s ‘Not Far Enough’. Her use of the simplest details, which pull open the world being described, helps to build an emotional tension that sears through the story:

‘Just do it, please.’ I couldn’t stop the tremble in my fingers as I pushed the battered sandals towards her. ‘Be quick.’

I turned back to the window. Any offers of help would lead to a battle of wills I wouldn’t win, a waste of precious seconds. My fingers curled around the flaking sills, tightened. Beyond the decaying verandah the earth was cracked and dry, clumps of bleached spinifex rising sharp as the sun’s bite. I didn’t dare look towards the road again. (91–92)

The mention of the ‘tremble in [her] fingers’, the ‘decaying verandah’ and the sharpness of the ‘sun’s bite’ communicate the sense of fear and anticipation that the narrator feels. That tension builds in the reader, too, as the story nears its conclusion and reveals that the person the narrator fears is someone known to them. It’s implied this is a family violence situation with the mention of ‘the new identities and remote location’ (93), but rather than state this explicitly and risk losing the cliffhanger ending, Dubrawski’s subtle language enhances the unknown danger and makes this story even more compelling.

Three Can Keep a Secret is a smorgasbord of a fictional feast dealing with important contemporary issues and it deserves to be savoured rather than devoured. Entertaining and enthralling, it is a monument to the plethora of writing talent that lives and works within the borders of WA.

Jen is a writer, editor, podcast host and event moderator based in Brisbane. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The ListThe Guardian and The Scotsman. She previously worked for Fremantle Press and now teaches writing, journalism and publishing at Curtin University, where she’s also doing her PhD in creative writing.

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