Harsh surroundings and random violence mark The Collected Stories, bringing together 25 years of Australian Malouf's shorter work.
Now that you've seen them all together, how do the stories look in relation to your seven novels?
It's a strange thing looking at work you've written over so many years. What I find myself committed to more than anything else is the way all of what I've done forms a body of work, and what that body of work says with its various correspondences and echoes. The stories speak to one another in a way, sometimes across quite a long period, but I hope the stories also speak to the novels.
Do the sorts of characters you write differ in the stories than in the novels?
Certain sets of problems come up over and over again for writers. In my case, there are a lot of different childhoods there: I'm very interested in how young minds get a grip on the world and find out who they are and how to move in the world. I think there's probably more of that in the stories than there is in the novels.
The settings the characters face are often quite harsh.
Nature in Australia is harsh. When Americans pushed into the center of the continent, what they found was abundant prairies. What people found when they got over the first mountain range and pushed into Australia—looking for a great river system and for vast green fields—they found desert. That's remained a very strong symbol, an existential harshness.
There's quite a lot of violence in the stories and many take place in Australia.
There's quite a lot of violence, I think, in Australia, though it's not politicized in the same way as I think it is in the States. Australia is extremely civil on the surface, but underneath that, there are hostilities which come out in various ways. Random violence. Domestic violence. And we have an extremely violent past: there was a very, very violent aggression in Australia against native people, against aborigines. That has left a strong shadow on Australian life. And a strong sense not so much of guilt but of embarrassment and shame. There are several stories that attempt to go back and deal with that.
How would you frame the new stories in the collection?
People say these stories are more concerned with mortality. If that's true, what I would say is that there's more lightness, and flexibility, and humor. It may be stronger, though, to balance a more somber view of where all lives tend.