The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac: Stories
“Louise Kennedy’s brass tack writing takes center stage in each of her haunting short stories. She begins in media res and unfurls precisely why and how the main character got there.”
The 15 short stories in Louise Kennedy’s debut collection, The End of the World Is a Cul De Sac, are thematically centered on the plight of women. In varied Irish settings and written from differing points of view, Louise Kennedy’s writing is bold, fearless, and brutally edgy as it simultaneously shines laser focus on a series of untenable predicaments while illuminating the fine, attendant details in an implied manner that leaves the reader intuiting cause and effect connections in the individual snapshots of human drama.
These are deep-probing, slice-of-life stories seamlessly woven in stark vignettes without a filter. The modern day, female characters are primarily painted into corners by the men in their lives. There are no morals to the stories, only the drab colors of life as it is, but the author’s command of craft and language is riddled with such visceral insight as to make each story an impactful experience.
The opening story, “The End of the World Is a Cul De Sac,” depicts a woman blind to the fact she is living under the full weight of her husband’s bad business dealings, until a sinister stranger knocks on her door and she is unwittingly used as retribution for her husband’s deep debts.
The story, “In Silhouette,” uses present progressive tense with a sense of urgency, as a sister comes to understand that the ramifications of her brother’s long ago involvement in an IRA incident have come home to roost.
In “Hunter-Gatherers,” a matter of perspective is in play, when a townie rents a cottage on a country estate with her eco-friendly boyfriend on the last day of shooting season and is enamored with the repeated appearance of a beautiful, wild hare. Questions of hypocrisy come to the fore as the woman feels kinship with the hare, while her naturalist boyfriend sees it as vermin worthy of slaughter.
A five-year-old girl named Clary is in danger of neglect in “Wolf Point.” She is the product of a woman whose mind is now on edge, and who is half the age of her long-suffering husband, who works in forestry, while he desperately tries to uphold both sides of parenting. The purview of “Wolf Point”’s setting is painstakingly described: “Each season brought something on: primroses and wood anemones in spring, amethyst deceivers and penny buns in autumn. Even winter had a bounty: a cluster of berries the birds had missed, lime-white lichen through freezing fog.” In flashback, the story of an unlikely union of opposites now come to a bad end is depicted, leaving behind questions of the proper care and maintenance of the innocent.
Notes of the supernatural underpin “Hands,” the story of a natural born healer, which begins at the edge of an Irish holy well. “There were trinkets on all the trees, flashes of color that rattled as he passed, but the holly tree was heavy with them. The branches were strung with dozens of weathered charms. Cloudy glass rosary beads and miraculous medals, floral ribbon tied in limp bows.” In this compelling short story, Jason’s laying of hands gift is exploited by his self-serving mother for personal gain, while Jason puts his gift to good use on his chronically ill, adolescent son.
Louise Kennedy’s brass tack writing takes center stage in each of her haunting short stories. She begins in media res and unfurls precisely why and how the main character got there. A writer who sets the scene then leaves the stage to the reader, Kennedy is not one to pass judgement, rather, she creates indefensible quandaries and turns the story over, asking the reader to take the next step.