The Dead Heart – Douglas Kennedy

This novelette length story is Douglas Kennedy’s debut. Just as in The Big Picture, the protagonist is a middle aged man stuck in a rut. However, this character is very different from succesful family man Ben Bradford in The Big Picture. Instead, he is a commitment phobic journalist who drifts through life, never holding down a job for more than a few years, never “doing” anything. One day, midlife crisis strikes hard and he flies to Australia. But not Sydney or Melbourne. Darwin. His plan is to buy a car and drive to Perth. A great adventure. On his way, he runs into a girl named Angie. After a few nights of drunken debauchery, she kidnaps him and takes him to a crazy commune in the desert. A place that it literally off the map. He is a prisoner in all but name in a nightmare of a town with nightmare inhabitants who think nothing of beating him to a pulp if he doesn’t show the right attitude.

Douglas Kennedy writes very well, but his angst filled middle aged men aren’t the thing to fill me with any great desire to pick up more of his books. They are a bit pathetic in that way most people are afraid they will turn out to be. The moral, of sorts, is to do something with your life before you end up a prisoner of that life. In the book, the protagonist is an actual physical prisoner, as opposed to the more commonplace metaphorical one, but the lesson holds true nevertheless. I did enjoy this book. It is rather short, but then it doesn’t need to be longer. Any extension would just be filler. It neatly says its piece and then is done. It is very funny at times, in a tragicomical fashion. Kennedy’s sense of irony is razor sharp. However, this humor is neatly balanced by the tragic situation our hero finds himself in. Sure, he’s a bit of a loser, but no one deserves what he goes through.

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