A collection of short fiction from Australian Kennedy—the author’s American debut.
In the opening story, physical therapists stick pins in a comatose woman, looking for the faintest suggestion of consciousness. This image could serve as a metaphor for the collection as a whole: Pain is a sign of life, because to live—and especially to love—is to hurt. Kennedy has a keen eye for the weak spot, for the fault lines in a relationship and the fissures that compromise a character’s ego. And she’s adept at depicting moments of transition and transformation. She captures both the imperceptible creep of aging and its flashes of horrible epiphany in the title story and in “A Pitch Too High for the Human Ear.” Both “Resize” and “Kill or Cure” are sobering meditations on marriage, and “Wheelbarrow Thief” concerns a woman whose pregnancy compels her to question just how happy she is with her lover. This is not to suggest that Kennedy’s vision is uniformly bleak. Unplanned pregnancy is a catalyst for a woman’s reinvention in “Soundtrack.” Light achieves equipoise with dark in “Direct Action” and “The Correct Name of Things.” And “The Light of Coincidence” and “Habit” are both exquisitely crafted and lovely in their hopefulness. Indeed, while it does say something about Kennedy’s outlook that the happiest relationship she describes is the one in which one partner is in a coma, and that her most resounding paean to life is narrated by a woman dying of cancer, it’s also telling that her best stories are also her most joyful.
Stories rendered with considerable craft and informed by a clear-eyed, unsentimental empathy.