The Hunter (and Other Stories of Men) (Transit Lounge 2018) is a quirky and engaging collection of short stories by David Cohen, who gave us the memorable, very funny and rather odd novel Disappearing Off the Face of the Earth. In The Hunter, we are indeed given a random assortment of stories of and about men: men alone and lonely; men embattled, embittered or ambitious; men ageing and struggling and overcompensating and suffering and behaving badly. This is a fine assembly of poignant observations about the human condition, most particularly the male of the species. The stories are witty and full of fun. They are moving and touch on issues of sensitivity and import. They are deceptively simple in structure and plot, but cleverly complex in emotions. Cohen dissects everyday lives and ordinary occurrences with a keen eye and an impressive attention to detail.
In the opening story, from which the title heralds, a property developer fights an ongoing battle with the ubiquitous ibis which threaten his construction. It’s man against nature, the lone operator against the hordes, and we sense his frustration with bureaucracy and his railing against the loss of common sense. It is these banal frustrations – with buses and politics and religion and queues and neighbours and rubbish recycling – that bubble forth into a cauldron of fascinating scenarios. In Frequently Asked Questions, we are treated to the circular inanity of life; in Woodcutter we meet a man who takes his new responsibilities a step too far. We wonder what happened to Carlos. We feel a connection to Dennis. We feel sympathy for poor Tony. We hear a story narrated by a bus stop, and find it makes absolute sense. We empathise with the transience of life, and we are forced to think about what comes afterwards in Variations on a Theme (by the Department of Transport and Main Roads). Washing Day leaves us feeling slightly soiled. The Archive paints a perfect and tender picture of life’s long, slow slide into oblivion. But like the armless piano player in Look for the Silver Lining, in every story we peek underneath the layers of grime and untidiness to the treasure beneath.
I found this book compelling, accessible, humorous and affecting, and found myself wishing the stories were longer so that I could prolong the process of getting to know the unusual array of characters.