In The Outback

An Australian holiday goes horribly - and hilariously - wrong.

When you read "The Dead Heart", a verbal script runs parallel with the text, fixing firmly a run of grainy images in your mind. There, itself, Kennedy has scored his first win.  He tells of a deadbeat journo - Nick Hawthorne from the heart of Yankee-land - whose passive routine of picking and ditching journalistic gigs in small-time papers keeps time with a similar like-and-leave act with the women, leaving him single, happy and very contented.  

And like the proverbial coming of dawn, Nick, one afternoon, zeroes in on a map of Outback Australia (and the notion of nothingness) in a Boston bookshop and, just as suddenly, sets off. Everything falls in line, as long as he follows the tourist track and eyes all with detached curiosity. But when he sidesteps the beaten road, and makes a detour for an elusive land - the eponymous Dead Heart (Wollanup) - he has it coming.

Kennedy has narrated a fantastically funny script that abounds with dark humour, not the kind that is full of joi-de-vivre or mindless mirth. Describing the scene without being tedious, or numbing the reader with detailed precision, he condenses the account to the immediate presence, using rare wit and a heavy dose of topical jargon that addresses almost every situation with a cynical, yet ingenuous naiveté.

What cranks up as an unproblematic jaunt into the edges of primitive Aussie culture - where kangaroos and beer are as ubiquitous as tawny skin and a skewed brogue - slips into a bizarre episode that gets repulsively plausible. That an idea such as this, with no extravagant ramifications, is told with tempered nonchalance and a balanced tone, lends the latter half of this novel a chilly temperament.

At the end of the novel, the brochure-driven images of a koala-happy land are displaced by the construct created by Kennedy, one of desolate Outback Australia, where an expansive void can bear an unexpected cult that would be best forgotten. Vividly descriptive and gripping at its conclusion, this is a fast read that would be perfect for a long long as you’re not headed for the big A. 

This article was first published on02 Oct 2002.