Written in classic Malouf style, Dream Stuff is a collection of short stories that share placement in the Australian environment. Most of these stories occur in Brisbane or its surrounds, and a common theme is the subtropical environment.
Malouf looks at people over many decades, all experiencing different lives in the same environment. The environmental descriptions are impeccable, taking the reader into the warm subtropical summer where everything is overly green and seems to grow faster than is possible.
The author describes this subtly yet succinctly, infusing the reader with the subtropical environmental experiences of the characters.
Malouf has crafted a wonderfully comfortable book that reads as a memory. All of the stories seem somehow related, even though they are glimpses of different families through different family members' eyes. The reader is taken from wartime holidays on the Bay in Brisbane to a modern expatriate author back in Brisbane for a visit, missing his overseas family. The so-called “widows” of the war are also given a rare glimpse. There is a feeling of familiarity in this collection, for feelings and environmental experience not restricted to Brisbane residents.
Somehow, the individual stories in this book seem to move seamlessly from one to another, spanning decades and vast differences. Although this is a collection of short stories, it reads almost like a novel as one memory dreamily moves into another.
Malouf's incredible craft with simple, yet emotive writing has come to the fore once again. His contemplative style assists in the atmosphere of the collection as being memories. It seems to read the way memories of childhood do. This reality is aided by
his ability to present both positive and negative experience in the same light. He is a master of creating stories that simply exist without emphasis on either side. The facts are simply presented as they might be remembered by anyone.
Ordinarily, short story collections can leave a dissatisfactory feeling once finished.
This particular collection, however, effuses a feeling of well-being and calmness in the face of adversity. All of the personas presented in this collection share their ‘strangeness’ or perceived difference from ‘everyone else’ or their prior selves. As this is a common human condition, the ways in which the different
characters deal with their differences lends a feeling of empathy and understanding for the people and situations presented.
To an Australian, this may well read as distinctly aussie material, yet, as Malouf seems to understand something deeper about the people and their emotions, it is a collection which reaches out to people as varied as the characters in the book. There is very little specific geographical placing, the geography being presented in a manner in which the characters are comfortable with. Most of them are staggered by massive distances while at the same time experiencing too much proximity, not all being actual miles of ground. Some of the distances these characters face are emotional, or distances in time. Once again, as distance is entirely perceptual, another opportunity for understanding and empathy with the characters is provided.
Dream Stuff, as with many Malouf works, is a lovely, comfortable, relaxing experience. Unfortunately, it cannot be said that Dream Stuff
is quite as touching as An Imaginary Life or some of Malouf’s other novels, due in part to the short story format.
Yet it is as flawlessly crafted as any of his other works. Dream Stuff: Stories is certainly an arresting and enjoyable read, and a great book
to relax with when the world is a bit too chaotic. Short story lovers will find that this collection certainly deserves pride of place amongst classic short story collections and authors.