'The Swarm' is a skilful unravelling of the stinging discomforts of love, its jostling and snagging moments; the extreme hunger of creative or physical desire that can thrust a man or woman beyond the perimeter of family. A cellist is driven by heartbreak to sell his beloved instrument; a slack husband falls for a food-obsessed office colleague; Marc Chagall introduces chickens into a Sydney flat and floats over the urban sky; a university lecturer falls hard for a sexy student while agonising over rape and violence in his own creative work. Kissane's quiet characters struggle with a swarm of elements: heartbreak, loyalty, reproduction, social conscience; as well as the lost pulse of coupledom, the loss of health, of youth.
Looking at the three of them, I felt this rush of emotion that I couldn't begin to name, except with words like shame and remorse and each word seemed weak when compared with the depth of my feeling. There was a longing to be with them, to feel the way I'd felt when I'd snapped the photo. ('Two Many Cream Buns')
There is a marked contrast between the haves and the have-nots, whether in terms of personal or physical riches: A pudgy little bloke in a green and white checked shirt got up from the next table as the passengers clambered out, all stretches and groans. He stood there, waiting, and then a girl came out of the bus, about twenty, no hips, skinny as a rat. She went straight for him, hugged him, and belted out a smile that could save your life. And here's me, wishing I was him. ('You Matter to God')
Raynes' characters are often wounded by life and overturned by relationships that have run aground. His powers of observation almost hurt. A tiny muscle in the corner of her mouth ticked away and Dan could see she wasn't happy with where her four years of uni had landed her. ('Lives Less Valuable')
Both 'The Swarm' and 'The Colour of Kerosene' have been published by smaller Australian publishers (Puncher & Wattmann Fiction, Wakefield Press) and bring gritty, sensual worlds to life. If you are a homesick writer like me, interested in returning to a faraway world, both books introduce striking and enduring characters and themes. Or if Australia is a clichéed concept whose deep, dirty truths you think you might like to savour, both books are contemporary and potent.