THE GIRL WHO PROPOSED - New Short Stories by Elizabeth Smither

(Cape Catley,

pb $27.99)

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NZ LISTENER, December 19 2008: 100 best books of 2008
Smither is at the height of her powers in this, her fifth collection, another New Zealand book on the longlist for the Frank O'Connor award. It is with effortlessly flowing prose and confidence that she takes us on her various journeys, introducing us to two would-be internet lovers; a quartet of bachelors living in cheerful squalor; a violin player struggling with the demands of international touring and his need for both a wife and a mistress; and a series of single women coping with divorce, death, dating, teenage children, Pilates classes, cat accidents, and what to do when faced with a spare single bed in a hotel room.

I know what you've been thinking. I know what your've been thinking because it's in this book. With an evocative sampling of this country and its inhabitants. Elizabeth Smither cuts a series of elegant tracks through the New Zealand psyche in her latest collection of short stories, The Girl Who Proposed.

Catching us while we fixate on self-imposed limitations and moralities, watching as we text message,, bend for Pilates, speed date and frown at the length of our neighbour's lawns, Smither uses fictional characters and situations to delve deeply but sympathetically into our real adventures in life. She explores how we establish new relationships, and also how we can travel solo. She pokes into our comfort zones and everyday routines, and lifts

the lid on those inexplicable emotional impulses that pull us away from them, baffled and mesmerised.

There is so much in these stories to learn about ourselves. Reading them made me wonder how much better our politicians could be if they imbibed more New Zealand literature like this, and less newsprint. Instead of barking at us from a distance, our representatives might develop an understanding of what motivates us, and, if they followed Smither's example, they could speak for us in words full of resonance and beauty.

However, this is not a self-help book for politicians - I don't expect to see it being read noisily on Parliament TV. This is a work of fiction that you should maketime to read. As an established New Zealand poet, novelist, reviewer, librarian and literary award winner who is at the top

of her game, Smither has formed a ensemble that would sit comfortably with Cheever and Chekhov, just as it does with our own Marshall and Mansfield. My favourite tales from the 15 in this collection, The Girl Who Proposed, Kathy & Tim, The love of little rooms and Rostered on, brought familiar, yet unfamiliar, situations to my imagination, each with fresh insight and enriched description. It's as if Smither has been gathering these words, conflicts and images all through her career, even though I know this is impossible because the stories in them are simply too fresh.

If you are hesitant about buying a short story collection, or don't think you will be entertained by New Zealand fiction, , take a chance on this one. Somewhere between pages 1 and 249 you might find your own thoughts already here, given life, in print.

Thomas Mitchell is an Auckland reviewer.

HB TODAY, Delightful Compilation ,23 FEBRUARY 2008

Why can't kangaroos go backwards? Antonia was upset to find two beds in her too-large hotel room. Isobel was given a red car by a dying friend. Kathy and Tim meet each other by Wanganui's Virginia Lake after searching for love on a DateMe internet programme. There is a society formed for people with Big Heads.

Not one story disappointed me, I wanted more, which is surprising because I have never been a fan of short stories - they are a genre of writing that is difficult to pull off. The writer must compact a tale, hold the reader's interest throughout and have a punch line that rounds it off - rather like a good pub yarn. The author does just that,

using some very personal storylines, high-lighting actions that we would prefer to be kept quiet.

The writing is evocative, funny, serious, emotional and best of all, highly readable.