Dark Roots is a remarkable collection of short stories,
and a sure bet for a good weekend read. Cate Kennedy's writing is sharp; her
details are meaningful but not meandering, her dialogue spot-on and funny but
also totally believable, the plot lines dramatic, but so well crafted that your
trust never wavers. Writing about predicaments we're curious about (fatal
accidents, murder, drug smuggling, infidelity, sabotage, unwanted pregnancies),
Kennedy anchors her high-stakes plotlines in the most familiar emotions, making
generous, unmanipulative stories that pull the reader in for thrills and
revelations. Whether writing in first, second, or third person, about a
fed-up-housewife or a disturbed nine year old boy, Kennedy hits the mark from
the very first line, nailing the subtleties in tone, details, and dialogue.
A quick glance at the credits page reveals that nearly all of these stories have won top prizes in Australian short story competitions, and it's no surprise. Each story is almost a textbook study of the form, jolted alive with true artistry. Writers will find much instruction and inspiration here, both in Kennedy's conceptual approach to the story and in the craft of her exposition. The really unusual thing is that these stories are also compulsively readable, which is not typically a defining characteristic of non-genre short fiction. Whereas I'm usually drawn to short stories that live in the spaces between the action, I found myself desperately wanting to race to the end of each of Kennedy's, compelled by the plot and the fates that awaited its characters. Think of the rush you get from racing to the end of an up-all-night novel except there are seventeen of these, each less than ten pages long. If you're pressed for time, you can't really do better than one of these before bed. And if you're not, then you've got a great weekend ahead of you.
This review is from the March 6, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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