Cate Kennedy

Alex is watching his wife as she stands at the pale stone bench and raises her canister of Chinese herbal tonic to her shoulder to give it a quick shake. She gives him a game, faintly ...

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You are perfect for this story. I will never meet you.’ We are invited into Australian Love Stories and into Bruce Pascoe’s erotic reverie with this line from ‘Dawn’. The reader is embraced, as the luxuriating eye of Pascoe’s narrator embraces the recumbent body of the woman beside him. His gaze is illicit, touch forbidden. We are privileged voyeurs, given temporary access to hidden thoughts and lives. Love. This paltry word hardly describes the myriad guises of friendship, affection, homosexual and heterosexual relationship, desire, lust, loneliness, and satisfaction; the gamut of emotions expressed in the twenty-nine stories editor Cate Kennedy selected from the ‘sea of stories’ she received. I do not have enough room here to mention each singular invocation of love by name. Some stories follow the constraints of realism, others are more expressionistic, but each holds a gift – a kernel of some essential truth about the human condition. The ones I mention simply struck a special chord for me.

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He was a man with a pinboard, and that boosted him a hundred points in her nervy evaluation, the first night she saw his room. On the pinboard were tickets, a laminated backstage pass, a wrapper from a Swiss chocolate, all those things that could wait for drowsy burbling nocturnal stories in the dark, the recounting of Times Before Her recited off like threaded bead ...

Cate Kennedy’s fine second collection of short stories, Like a House on Fire, is of a determinedly realist bent. Metafictional play does not generally form part of Kennedy’s armoury, and the mostly low-rent settings and struggling characters reprise what in the 1980s and early 1990s was briefly known as dirty realism, though Kennedy’s prose is not as resolutely spare as that of some writers associated with that movement.

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The ABC Shop is currently selling online The Best Australian Stories 2010 for $14.99. ‘Ideal for summer reading’ its advertising says, and it surely doesn’t matter which summer. At that price you might get yourself a copy and sling it in your beach bag, unless you suspect it might dampen your holiday mood. More than a few reviewers found the overall tone of the collection bleak and negative: ‘one of the more depressing reads of the year’, wrote Chris Flynn in these pages (February 2011). If that doesn’t sound like ideal beach reading, shell out the full RRP and buy The Best Australian Stories 2011.

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The Best Australian Stories 2010 edited by Cate Kennedy  & New Australian Stories 2 edited by Aviva Tuffield

by
February 2011, no. 328

Amore appropriate moniker for this year’s Black Inc. collection might be ‘Bleak Australian Stories 2010’. Either the editor’s taste runs to the morose or Australian writers need to venture outside and enjoy the sunshine a little more...

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 Ray was stuck in traffic, an unusual feeling in a town the size of his, inching forward through a detour round the railway crossing. He watched the orange text changing on the roadside electronic billboard in the kind of trance he had recently found himself lapsing into more and more. TRACK UPGRADE he read absently. DELAYS EXPECTED. DETOU ...