I was hungry for short fiction when I found Jon Steiner’s The Last Wilkie’s and Other Stories, and it deeply satisfied the ache at my centre.
The book brings together 33 stories, ranging in size from small snapshot vignettes to longer works. I was impressed that the book as a whole felt so much like a collection. Steiner has a clear voice that speaks true to the reader and allows the book to feel very ‘complete’; it’s as if these stories were simply meant to be, and I was very lucky to have found them all together.
At first I was surprised by Steiner’s approach to short fiction. His stories often centre around everyday moments, but he transforms them into surreal situations by adding a dash of wacky to the mix. The narrative is grounded in realism but it’s not the kind of reality we’re used to.
His writing is, all at once, funny and heartbreaking; there’s a bittersweet undertone that leaves you wondering.
My favourite story was ‘Shady Oaks’, which is about a nursing home for generation Y. It was a glimpse into my future that was profound, poignant, and unsettling:
‘Wrinkled flesh hung from his bony arms, a mass of discoloured skin all that remained of what had once been some pretty badass Japanese warrior sleeve tatts.
“Yo, man, what’s up?” said the very old man from the doorway…’
Steiner’s stories had me thinking about fiction writing in a new way. I started considering the reality I knew and asking, ‘What could I do to make this all new in a short story of my own?’
Other stand-out stories included ‘Morning Meeting’ (a classic office meeting about organising a kidnapping scam), and ‘Jungle Train’ (a couple travelling around Malaysia growing further and further apart).
I was also pleasantly surprised to (finally) find a fiction book with illustrations. Designer Zoe Sadokierski has managed to capture the unique style of Steiner’s writing with quirky collages and drawings that accompany the words perfectly.
A treat from start to finish, there wasn’t a single moment of The Last Wilkie’s and Other Stories that I didn’t ferociously devour.
Kyra Bandte is a writer from Wollongong, NSW. She is Deputy Editor of Writer’s Edit and Sub-Editor for Mascara Literary Review, and her work has been published in Kindling, Seizure, Space Place & Culture, and more. You can find more at kyrabandte.com or on Twitter with @KyraBandte.