12+ "Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner." A quote by Neil Gaiman and a perfect description of A Couple of Things Before the End: Stories by Sean O'Beirne (Black Inc., 2020).
In a slimmish, 201-page volume, O'Beirne's debut short story collection gifts the reader with eighteen windows into other worlds, minds and dreams, set in the past, present and future, and all painted on an Australian canvas.
Diversity and Form
The diverse characters and themes in the collection include a young actress who flirts with a wild Barry Humphries on a London-bound passenger ship in the 1950s. A teenage boy recounts his last year of high school and first real girlfriend, from a first kiss to sex in the 1980s. A security guard delivers a redacted report on the plight of asylum seekers in a Nauru detention camp. The leader of the New Australia Party sets out his racist, authoritarian agenda at a post-election press conference in the not-too-distant future. And a woman pleads to be accepted by a private gated community to escape the heat and rising sea levels threatening her well-to-do home in a climate-changed world.
O'Beirne also experiments with form in his writing. In addition to traditional narrative and dialogue structures, the stories are written as diary entries, letters, interviews, phone calls, texts, speeches, reports, social media posts and emails. And O'Beirne closes the collection with the heart-wrenching child-like journal of a young woman eking out a living in a post-apocalyptic underground car park.
A Couple of Things Before the End receives high praise from noted Australian literary figures on the cover. Helen Garner writes:
“These voices, so superbly heard and rendered, threw me into fits of laughter and slyly broke my heart.”
And Christos Tsiolkas asks:
“How do we speak and write into a future? I think Sean O'Beirne is showing us the way of doing it.”
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I read O’Beirne’s short stories in bed at night before going to sleep. But, unlike Gaiman, I had the joy of journeying to the far side of the universe without worrying about being back in time for dinner.
And in the anxious days of coronavirus and self-isolation, A Couple of Things Before the End provided the escapism I craved.
© 2020 Robert Fairhead
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.
Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.