Three Encounters with the Physical by Graeme Simsion came second in the recent Age Short Story Awards. The story is about a disastrous attempt at a first marathon and had a bit more resonance with me because last year I helped edit Chris Pavey’s Running Against Time, a book about Chris’ conversion from slob to marathon runner. He went on to raise a fair bit of money for charity and run up Mount Fuji. It is a great book, very inspirational, and told in a knock-about way.
Three Encounters with the Physical is a true story. The events in the story happened to Graeme Simsion during the 2010 Canberra marathon. As such, the story really engaged my interest as I wondered how damaged he would become.
The story also has an unusual narrative style that used all three points of view: first, third and second, all in the space of a few thousand words.
The story starts in second person (if you haven’t read it yet, go and read it now, it will be fifteen minutes well spent). This second person narrative reads like someone watching himself, detached from himself, watching himself make near fatal errors. It covers the lead up to the marathon and the marathon itself.
Simsion then changes to third person, as if the marathon runner is no longer himself, but some other ill and injured person. The story finishes in first person. He has merged back with his body and is living with the marathon’s consequences.
Now if he had read Chris Pavey’s book, Running Against Time, perhaps he would not have overloaded on carbs before the marathon. But Chris’ book was not out then.
One thought that struck me is whether the judges realised who the writer was. I assume, like in most short story competitions, that the judges didn’t know who wrote any of the stories while they were judging them. If this was the case, then any judge who keeps up with the Australian literary scene would probably have known about Graeme Simsion. After all, his 2012 novel The Rose Project earned about $1.8 million in publishing deals, and they could have heard about his muscle meltdown in a marathon. Did the judges know they were reading his story? If they did, what effect did it have on their judgement of the story?
I think it is a compelling well-written story with excellent use of point of view.
I have nearly finished reading the recently published version of Chris’ novel. Much to my surprise, I have only had to cringe at the editing a few times. I plan to post a totally unbiased review of it next week.