By Paddy O'Reilly (University of Queensland Press, 2007)
The follow-up to Paddy O’Reilly’s debut novel, The Factory (2005), The End of the World is a collection of the stories that have won her accolades including The Age short story competition and the Zoetrope: All-Story short fiction contest. It is immediately clear why O’Reilly has been so applauded and well published: She hops across genre lines in a mixture of different styles and voice, but always writes with pathos and empathy, without sentimentality, and with a good dose of humor.
In "FutureGirl," there's sorrow and comedy when a freakishly large girl realizes that she won't live as long as regular-sized people. There’s no hiding the vivid imagination behind “Speak to Me,” in which an alien tries to communicate with a fantasy writer in Regency-romance English. The title story — a highlight — depicts a woman who is leaving her partner, watching in her rearview mirror as his car follows her for hours (they even stop for gas at the same time). The story’s end plays out like a short film; perhaps we have O’Reilly’s background as a screenwriter to thank for that.
There is nothing predictable here. A short story writer can fall into the trap of using the same structure or narrative arc again and again; O’Reilly is always crisp, new, and striking, whether she is writing in a realist mode or working up a very literary science fiction story. Whatever the situation O’Reilly puts them in, however, her unusual bunch of characters are universal in their needs and the way that they express or refuse to express them. Even in the strangest contexts, the turning moments within each of these stories are heartbreakingly familiar.
Louise Swinn is the editorial director of Sleepers.