2022 - Winner
In Tony Birch’s short story collection, last night was very dark indeed, and Birch has illuminated every misdemeanour, hypocrisy, collusive lie, and real and imagined crime. This collection of stories includes pieces published between 2018 and 2020 as well as several unpublished pieces.
The stories in Dark as Last Night are as realised and rich as novels: they give a sense of lives fully lived, events remembered and projected. The reader frequently sees multiple character perspectives — the doomed thief and the friend too cowardly to save him, the impulsive and the cautious, drunks, gamblers, and children who hope to honour the baby Jesus. Throughout the collection, a sense of menace and (sometimes) unspoken threat hangs over its characters as they face issues including domestic violence, child abuse and life in a pandemic. In amongst lives of struggle and impulsive wrong turns, we still see moments full of love and falling in love.
In amongst struggle and impulsive wrong turns — both individual and societal — we are given striking moments of care and connection in longstanding relationships between family and friends, or fleetingly between strangers. Captivating as yarns, wearing their brilliance and compassion lightly, these stories take us somewhere deep. They rub at the seams and scars of contemporary life and carry us, along with their flawed but ultimately lovable characters, into bright hope, humour and appreciation. This work is audacious in its understatement and unassuming application of wit and wisdom. It signals a writer at the top of his game.