Laugh-out-loud funny. Brutal. Beautiful. And – most impressively perhaps – truthful. An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life (Allen & Unwin, 2022) is the first collection of short stories by Australian wunderkind Paul Dalla Rosa.

By turns shocking – Dalla Rosa doesn’t shy from vivid sex scenes or the pitfalls of Grindr – and witty, the collection is at its best when describing the travails of modern work or the nagging sense of disconnect in our constantly connected world. It’s exceptional when it joins the two themes together.

Dalla Rosa won the 2019 Sunday Times Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a single short story, for Comme, the tale of a luxury boutique manager desperately awaiting the arrival of the mysterious (Godot-like) fashion designer, R. But the quality of the rest of the stories in the collection is similarly high.

In one, a desperate Pancake Salon employee retreats from his life to pursue ShyGuy18 and perfect the ‘perfect’ game of Grand Theft Auto. In another, an actress is caught, like an oxygen-deprived fish, in the ever-expanding net of gossip and reporting around a Weinstein-like court case.

The perils of online shopping, a crazed cat, karaoke bars and soul-destroying jobs – ‘often all I would do for a day was stick little red stickers on contracts next to where clients had to sign’ – also make star turns.

At its core, An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life is about all the little but essential ways life doesn’t live up to the promises made about it online.

If you’re looking for something more challenging than your typical beach read, give Dalla Rosa’s extremely funny and deeply moving collection a go. Some of his images – the aftermath of a fully clothed jump into a swimming pool at a Hollywood party, or young sheiks shuffling into a bar in the UAE – will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

Meredith Tucker


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