In the middle of a Brisbane lockdown, Trent Dalton decided to drag a trestle table, chairs and an old typewriter across Southbank so that he could sit outside on the river and collect love stories. Extraordinary stories from ordinary, extraordinary people, in which love is found, lost, cherished and strengthened. The selfishness and fear of COVID-19 brewed a determination in Trent to find the everyday beauty – and the love stories – in everyday experiences.
This synopsis alone could probably stand as my review – the stories made my chest hurt in such a good way. I was so sick of reading news headlines that made my heart flutter with anxiety; I was so sick of feeling afraid and bitter, and seeing that reflected in other people. This book gave me so much hope, and I felt this overwhelming sense of relief because it shows that humans are intrinsically good, not hurtful, beings.
We’re capable of a lot of hate and horror, but we’re also capable of vibrant love and incredible selflessness. That was so beautiful to read, and I'm so grateful that Trent thought to bring that to his publisher.
Maddy holds up a copy of Love Stories, by Trent Dalton, in 2021. Photo: Madeleine Corbel.
The structure of Love Stories is very episodic. Sometimes, a person will get a whole chapter or section for their story. Sometimes, their stories are combined with others'. And sometimes, Trent migrates for a moment to his own life, his own reflections on his personal history and what it feels like to be in his body, sat on the open street in Brisbane.
Some of my favourite passages were the moments that Trent noticed and noted – the leaves on the street, the murky brown colour of the river's water, the father at the streetlight, holding his daughter's hand.
Some of these, however, felt a little self-congratulatory. In my very personal opinion, Trent felt sometimes like the sole narrator of the world – he went to great lengths to describe the beauty of singular moments, without accounting outwardly for the privilege of being an author.
I had a big discussion with my sister about this (which was another beautiful outcome of the book): we were talking about the role of the author and how it can be romanticised. As if the author is on high, looking down on the rest of society, the rest of the world.
Lindsay Ellis contemplates the theory behind the death of the author in literature. Video: 'Death of the Author', by Lindsay Ellis.
I will keep thinking on this though – to me, Trent Dalton seems like a wonderfully down-to-earth person who's had to work extremely hard to get to the position where he is able to sit on a street corner and listen to strangers' tales. I'm very sure that it's my own bitterness and scepticism that got in my way during some of those flowery passages, because his writing is a joy to read.
It's almost as if I'm searching for something to cricitise – I was so thoroughly moved by this book and its 'characters'. I'll be definitely recommending it to friends and family as a tonic to lockdowns and stress. It was easy to read, lovely to pick up and put down, beautifully structured and so bloody powerful.
I feel like one of the only Australians who's never read Boy Swallows Universe, so I'll definitely be rectifying that mistake this year! A wonderful author, a beautiful collection of people and an important, poignant book. I'm so glad and grateful that I got to read it.
As always, thanks a bunch for reading with me,