Hold Your Fire is the highly anticipated short story collection by Australian writer, Chloe Wilson. Containing work which has been previously published in Granta, The Iowa Review, The Big Issue and the Australian Book Review online, the publication of this book marks the arrival of a new powerhouse in Australian short fiction.
Each of the seventeen stories showcase Wilson’s skill with sharp characterisation and precise prose. From the first line of each piece, the voice of its protagonist is markedly different from each preceding story. And, the confidence with which Wilson writes means that as a reader, you’re willing to follow her wherever she wants to take you. Many of the longer stories start with a unique set up and then introduce a seemingly unrelated tangent to the story, slowly weaving the two strands together as you work towards the conclusion. These are my favourite kinds of short stories, with endings often left somewhat unresolved, or with characters left standing in the aftermath of their actions, wondering what to do next.
The shorter stories – flash fiction or microfiction pieces of less than two pages each – break up the book, serving us up delicious slices of imagination. It is with one of these stories that the book begins. In “The Leopard Next Door”, an unnamed narrator recounts visiting her neighbour in an apartment building after he brings home a pet leopard. Wilson writes about this bizarre event with such authority that you could almost believe that she knows someone who has done just that (but hopefully they did not suffer the same fate.) Meanwhile, in “Exchange”, a mother becomes so invested in the lie she tells the neighbours about where her son Billy is, that she truly begins to believe he’s on exchange in Switzerland. These pieces show off how insightful a writer Wilson is, whilst also serving as a palate cleanser between those bigger, more ambitious stories.
But it is the longer stories where Wilson really hits her stride and shows off what she can do. In the story “Rip”, one might actually believe that Wilson was a champion high diver in a former life, so real is this setting and so detailed are the descriptions of training for a new manoeuvre. This story, touching on themes of female adolescence, vulnerability and the relationship between coach and athlete could easily have veered into predictable and tired territory, but instead was a riveting story of ambition. You could practically smell the chlorine.
In the title story “Hold Your Fire”, the point of view of lead character Fiona is at once so delectably sociopathic and also somehow relatable. I’m still not sure how Wilson managed that, but I want to read that story again. It’s easy to see why the whole book was named after that piece as it is a clear stand out.
Throughout this book, Wilson does not shy away from the unpalatable. In “Harbour”, a pair of half sisters travel to some sort of wellness clinic to undergo a patented ‘expulsion cure’. In “Tongue-Tied”, a gym teacher encounters a former student and has to re-examine her instinctive revulsion towards the girl. in “Monstera”, a woman finds herself looking after the father of a childhood friend as he attempts to pass his kidney stones. Embedded as the reader is in the protagonists’ points of view, at times it feels like what is happening to them is happening to you. But, this only serves to make the stories more compelling.
If you liked Salt Slow by Julia Armfield or Kristen Roupenian‘s Cat Person, then I have a strong suspicion you’ll absolutely love Hold Your Fire.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)