Tales from the Pandemic
Tales from the Pandemic
An Anthology
  • Category:Short Stories, Australian Fiction
  • Date Read:16 March 2023
  • Year Published:2022
  • PAGES:315
  • 4.5 stars

Tales From the Pandemic is a series of 45 short stories written during those two long years that many have come to think of as the worst and most unbelievable years of their lives: the height of Covid-19. The book is comprised of short stories chosen from a competition run by Eastern Regional Library Services, here in Australia, during the pandemic. The competition required entrants to write a fiction or non-fiction short story of up to 3,000 words. If you haven’t seen this book in a store, I can’t say as I am surprised. It is published as an ‘on demand’ release. But it is available around the world, not just Australia. The only way I heard about it was because a friend wrote one of the stories appearing in the book. My interest was piqued. I ordered a copy, and after waiting quite a while for it to be printed especially for me, my book arrived.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I thought all the stories would be directly Covid related, but that isn’t the case at all. Some are simply a short story, fiction or not, written after the period. Many are actually written by budding or published writers, while others are simply the reflections of those who had a personal story to tell. However, since this is a project which originated in Victoria, the Australian State which was probably the hardest and longest hit with lockdowns – and where Covid restrictions were most politically polarised – there is a definite flavour associated with many of the stories written by Victorian authors. Even so, given the range of stories and similar social reactions around the world, I think people overseas would read many of the stories and still feel empathy and understanding with situations here.

One thing that comes from these stories is that not everyone had the same experiences of Covid, or indeed lockdowns, even when living under the same circumstances. Common themes did, however, come through. The stories ‘A tale of twin towns’ and ‘A family divided’ both share the grief of lockdowns separating families in different States, while other stories mention the 5 kilometre rule, which separated people in the same suburb. The separation of extended families is highlighted in ‘In a minute’ by Paul Gallagher, with children not coping with their separation from their grandparents.

For many though, the stories reflect new opportunities during the lockdown; a different way or different things to do. In ‘Curfew’ by Liam Connolly, new hobbies are explored; ‘The daily walk’ by Trina Bergmann shows how it is still possible to get out of the house and enjoy life. But for many there are also the inevitable negatives that just can’t be avoided: ‘The Zoom Funeral’, highlights a phenomenon common here in Australia, at least during the pandemic, where grieving family members had to say goodbye to a loved ones via virtual funerals; not what anyone would want for their dearly beloved. In ‘Unmasked’, Kelly Simpson writes of the experience of being looked at accusingly if ever she was out without her mask. In ‘Cancelled’ by Rachel Briscoe, we read about the experience of a final-year high school student from the perspective of her mother, watching her daughter feel denied the usual rites of passage at the end of her school career. Everything seems cancelled, including the formal, for a time. Luckily for Rachel’s daughter, the formal is reinstated and she gets to experience some normality at the end of her school life.

There are also the stories from certain professions, showing just what they went through. No one would have wanted to step into their shoes. ‘That’s my job’ by Olivia Sedgwick gives us insight into the point of view of an ICU nurse, so exhausted, but then still pressing on to look after her family. Then there are the experiences of teachers, related in ‘We are all adapting’ by Nina Dykstra and ‘Animal Adaptation’ by Kat Beaton: trying to keep students online and interested, the demands of trying to teach what was demanded by the curriculum as well as to live their lives.

There are stories of coping with parenthood. In ‘Covid Baby’ by Jessica Pritchard (the winner of the competition) we hear the story of a mother who has just given birth, and the challenge of coping with these strange and unusual times. This story was one of my favourites. In ‘Daddy in Lockdown’ by Michael Hansen we hear the perspective of a father trying to help his wife cope with their children, while experiencing anxiety as he tries to cope with working from home. And of course, there are stories of people suffering from Covid and their experience of being hospitalised.

I guess these are the stories we have all experienced at some time, or have known of people experiencing them. But not all of it is negative. There are positives as well. The stories ‘Woman sits at home’ by Katelin Farnsworth and ‘Surviving from home’ by Alyce Casewell show that some people actually enjoyed being at home and thrived throughout the period.

Besides the Covid-related stories, there are a few which stand apart from the Lockdown period. ‘The deal’ by Elaara Wylder and ‘The Stranger’ by Roanna McClelland were written during or post-Covid, but have no relation to the actual period.

The librarians who developed the competition chose winners, and highly commended stories. There is a list in the introduction. I can’t say that I agree with all of their decisions, but that is the nature of these things.

I enjoyed reading the anthology. Some stories were much better and easier to read than others, but overall, they brought out the good, the bad and the ugly of those times. Living in Sydney, we certainly weren’t as greatly affected as some people in other States were, but my heart went out to those whose lives were changed immeasurably.

I can recommend reading this collection, which in years to come may be seen as a kind of time capsule for two of the most unusual years in our social history.

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