This is a review of The Surburban Review: Stellar Edition by Sarah Martin.
The Suburban Review 4: Stellar Edition
Editor-in-Chief: Francesca Ohlert
Deputy Editor: T.J. Robinson
Art Editor: Danielle Hakim
Comics Editor: Mikael Hattingh
Associate Editors: Zoe Kingsley, Anupama Pilbrow
Layout Design: T.J. Robinson
Cover Art: Victoria Bennett Grappling With Her Frock by Lyndal Walker
Page Count: 41
What a pleasure this zine is! Created as a celebration of local female writers, the Stellar Edition was conceived as a kind of “literary high five.” After this effort, I certainly won’t leave them hanging. This is a delightfully thoughtful collection of pieces, carefully curated to tie in with the Stella Prize for Australian women’s literature. All the pieces are written, drawn, or photographed by women, and a dollar from each sale goes to the Stella Forever Campaign, which aims to fund the prize in the future. Women are also the common theme in the issue, which gives the collection a unified focus.
The non-fiction essay “Hard Rubbish” opens the collection, beautifully setting the tone to follow. Alice Thompson’s personal piece begins with a pair of sisters inspecting a local hard rubbish offering on the curb. “It’s not rubbish really, not refuse, more like the remnants of domesticity, things someone has left behind.” While the story could hardly be called rubbish of any kind, it too inspects the remnants of domestic life: the memories of simple, seemingly insignificant moments that accrue value with age. The sisters have inherited this behaviour from their mother, and the story gently dwells on this connection between generations of women. The beauty of this story is in the relationships: the way we come to understand one another more deeply as we age, recognise ourselves in others, and them in us.
This focus on the relationships between women continues in the second non-fiction piece, “All My Friends Are Narcissists” by Ellena Savage. Despite the seemingly caustic title, it is a deeply loving tribute to four female friends who helped shape the author into the woman she is today. Each friendship is unique, and cherished. From her “first love, best love,” to the friend she worries she now neglects, these are moving portraits of the different forms female friendship can take. Each receives a double page spread, with a written meditation and an illustration by Carolyn Hawkins. In style, the portraits straddle the divide between exaggerated sketches and restrained cartoon caricatures. Each is fair bursting with personality.
The visual elements of the Stellar Edition are well chosen across the board. Lyndal Walker’s photography graces the front cover and the art section, including the centrefold spread. “Lara Travis and I Exposed, 2010” neatly scuttles the typical male gaze-y expectations around that position. I just love this picture. In it, we see the eponymous Lara Travis examining herself in the mirror, which also reflects the photographer. Lara has her back to the camera, face obscured; the only exposed skin is her left ear, a sliver of cheek, and her left hand. The photographer, the camera, and by extension we are visible on the right of the image. Everyone is focussed on Lara, including her. It reminds me of the discussion about the significance of the rise of selfies. To hell with the shaming and the accusations of narcissism! If we want to look at pictures of pretty women, then why shouldn’t they? This controlled, willing exposure contrasts with the black and white nude photograph hanging on the wall. Top marks.
The other notable visual element in the zine is the comic “Silver” by Mandy Ord, dealing with the grown-up fear of the dark. It’s a problem common to many women: spaces transform from safe to scary when the sun goes down. As she says, “My greatest fear that night was an encounter with a stranger on that lonely road.” The dialogue in the final frames didn’t sound quite natural, but the themes should hit home. They certainly did for me.
I was not as captivated with the only piece of fiction, “Charlie’s Girls” by Laura Elizabeth Woollett. The plot follows the infamous Manson Family murders with an inside perspective. It was well written in many respects; Woollett has a good ear for dialogue, and can paint a scene vividly. But I couldn’t grasp the point the story wanted to make. At times, it seemed to highlight the incongruous horror of the situation, such as when a murderer relates playing with her victim’s dogs – “Little fluffy white balls!” But these snippets showing the Family’s lack of self-awareness are rare. I suppose it’s not surprising that a story with this subject matter would provoke strong responses. It won’t be for everyone.
The zine also had a variety of poems sprinkled throughout. The highlight for me came on the final page of the zine (save for the credits). The anachronistically named “The Flash Mob,” by Tegan Jane Schetrumpf is a wickedly funny rhyming poem (think Revolting Rhymes) set in Hobart in 1838. It gives a rude, highly entertaining, and cheeky salute to past Australian women.
The Stellar Edition is a well-considered, thoughtful zine, and one that rewards rereading. In a sometimes-crowded literary journal scene, this has established the Suburban Review as a publication with its own character. Consider me a convert: this was the first edition of the Suburban Review I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.
Sarah Martin is a publishing student at the University of Melbourne, and the secretary of their new Publishing Students Society. After many years of dedicated reading, she is taking her first faltering steps at writing publicly. It's like Bambi on ice.
Check of The Suburban Review and everything they got goin' on here. Submissions for edition #5: Family are open til Nov 2nd.
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