We get a sense of how apt the short story collection can be in imparting a sense of global society, and the sheer availability and transportability of its stories. Power’s stories are hugely diverse in their settings, which he mines for meaning with considerable facility. A Vietnamese story, She Calls her Boy Amazing, is a strong tale of a child growing up as a beggar around the railway station and how the loss of his mother is substituted by the paternalistic affection of an older man who recognises the boy’s talents and gives him a leg-up in life. The story of a couple that loses their only child on Ireland’s barren Aran Islands is another to benefit from its exotic setting. At one level it’s the story of the disintegration of a marriage, at another an exploration of the mysticism of place, and the idea that by changing places we can change ourselves. The Mayor’s Fear of the Penalty, set in the Indonesian province of West Papua, is another that gains from its location. It’s a classic tale of punished hubris in the context of sport, politics and populism.
Whereas Clarke works with empathy, Power frequently evinces an authorial interest in how life can go wrong for a character at any given moment. The span of experience in the collection challenges our moral schemas by pointing to life’s intrinsic injustices. He’s particularly alive to human foible and folly, with a clear interest in exploring characters whose moral compasses are awry. The title story is a blackly humorous tale of trivial meanness while several others such as Firenze and Snowball and Grooming deal with the way people use and abuse the internet. The latter, in particular, is a neatly twisted cautionary tale.
Ed Wright, The Australian June 21-22, 2014
It seems that Dublin-born Robert Power is no stranger to the theme of loss. Power, now living in Australia, has created in ‘Meatloaf in Manhattan’ a profound study of loss in all its forms, spanning across generations, lands, cultures, and even alternate worlds.
In Manhattan, a waitress in a late-night diner is given a brief respite from her loneliness, only to have it snatched away from her; a cyber-superstar loses her fandom but finds solace in actualising a dream into a reality; a son loses his mother in Vietnam; another son loses his mother to madness; and a father loses his son in the tragic tale of ‘Synge’s Chair’, a story that will remain with you long after you turn the last page. In each of these small explorations, Power carefully examines how his characters address the difficulties that life throws their way, be it from a place of acceptance, strength or despair.
Despite this recurrent theme, the 16 tales that make up ‘Meatloaf in Manhattan’ do not leave you reaching for the whisky bottle. Each story is imbued with a ray of hope; even Charlene, the waitress in the title story, finds solace in the dancing snowflakes that fall around her as she closes the diner for the evening, or at least I like to think she does.
Samuel Zifchak, Readings Monthly, April 2014
One of my favourite shorts in this collection is ‘The Postman Gets a Letter’. The Postman is a beautifully realised character who has tried to make life easier for his depressed wife by finding her a caravan by the sea where she can nurture her wounded soul. At the same time and in the absence of romance, excitement and/or children, he has channelled his energies into the all-consuming hobby of chronicling the history of the country town in which he lives.
The Postman’s wife reveals her unhappiness – and eventually the secret she has kept from him – by way of a letter she writes from ‘down on the tip of Port Phillip Bay’ (p. 174) with ‘the waves heaving back and forth, oblivious forever to the fears and joys of those passing by’ (p. 165-166). Her demons are stronger than their love, she writes to her husband. When she tells him of the back story she has invented of a ‘tall, handsome, teenage son’ (p. 169), it’s time for the tissue box. This mythical son has a name and a sense of humour, and she has a reserve of created ‘memories’. It is, indeed, heartbreaking.
The Postman has a secret of his own and it is amusing to wonder about the impact of his secret on the lives of so many people. There could be another set of stories in that.
Karenlee Thompson, ANZLitLovers ANZ Lit Lovers: Meatloaf in Manhattan
Power has an assured voice, one full of intelligence and empathy.
Luke Horton, Books+ Publishing, Issue 1 2014
A couple of years ago Robert Power won The Age Short Story Competition for the titular tale of this collection of stories. It’s a good indication of his skills that the other 15 stories are also fine examples of the particular art of short fiction. He sets his protagonists in random places, from Melbourne to New York to Vietnam and their connections with other people are minutely observed. Whether it’s playing around in virtual reality or eking out a hard-scrabble existence on rural backwaters, his book is nuanced and touching.
Thuy On, The Sunday Age, 27 April 2014
… revealing, touching and occasionally profound.
Herald Sun, May 31 2014
Working with HIV prevention in his other life may help explain how Australian based Irish writer Robert Power has such insight into the strange life of outsiders. These 16 technicolour stories take place somewhere on the shaded fringes of the safe comfortable life we know. His subject matter is wildly original. The title story is about a man staying in New York who preys onthe sympathy of locals, in particular a waitress in a diner, by pretending he is blind. One is about a child beggar, Ny, born after his mother was thrown overboard and destined to a life begging at a station in Vietnam; he copies the others, adopting the requisite hangdog expressions and empty eyes. Another tells of a psychiatrist who ministers to misfits and the misunderstood. They are tinged with mystery and set in West Siberia where he seems at home among the thugs, amongst gypsies or in his home town of Dublin. Their flavour suggests a script for a film by Tom Waits; dark but never depressing.
Adelaide Advertiser, 28 June 2014