Issue No. 111
EDITOR’S NOTEA singular piece of contemporary fiction, Maria Takolander’s stunning Chekhov-inspired story, “Three Sisters” is the perfect introduction to an incredible new international writer.
Taken from Takolander’s sensational debut collection, The Double (Text, 2013), and published for the first time in the USA in issue four of Stonecutter, “Three Sisters” brings us into the decaying, swampy environs of an unnamed rural Australian roadhouse. There reside immigrant sisters Oksana, Svetlana, and Tatiana, who silently yet steadily eke out their days amidst the marshlands. The tedium of their daily lives is barely interrupted by the characters who invade their surroundings—an obese, clownish truck driver, and an old, fragile, foreigner; Lear and his fool.
Drawing on Chekhov’s fire-ravaged and eventually abandoned town, the world of Takolander’s story has also been transformed by some unknown force—by nature or economic failure, diaspora or disinterest. We are never told exactly what. Nonetheless, we fully enter it, navigated by an omniscient voice—something of a tour guide to this fable-like realm—who, in sweeping panoramas, commands that we “look” and “see” everything, lest it dissolve or remain forever invisible. And so, we visit the town’s decaying museum and its abandoned playground, consider its sprawling mangroves and roving gangs of mosquitoes, and bear witness to an otherwise forgotten place.
When we finally cross the threshold of the roadhouse and meet the sisters, they are quite unlike Chekhov’s vocal women. Takolander’s creations are taciturn, mythic creatures; weathered statues amidst total ruin. And though the sisters are “spoken for” by the story’s narrator, and “spoken at” by the two male figures in the tale, they are still formidable presences—business people, the last vestiges of an area that nature and poverty have otherwise vanquished.
Takolander’s stories astonish. They show ordinary lives, the marginalized, our sisters, whose histories have been forgotten or remain untold: the men with their bloody steaks, the phantom on the swing, the shadows of birds with their pickaxe heads. To see and feel and recognize these characters and their silences, to be brought into a strange, nameless place and, having peered at the world from both within and beyond the frame, to come away from it with knowledge and understanding—this is the remarkable gift that a Takolander story gives to us.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Stonecutter