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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The World Beneath

The World Beneath
Cate Kennedy
Black Cat, 2009

Rich and Sandy used to be a couple in love with each other and with a cause: environmental activism. In fact, that’s where they met – during a world-famous blockade in Tasmania to save the wilderness. Now, twenty-five years later, they have settled into middle age separately but they both remember their involvement in the blockade as the pinnacle of their lives. Even though they have not been together for many years, they share a daughter, Sophie, who Rich has kept in touch with sporadically over the years. Sophie is now 15 years old and her disdain for her mother has reached a new high, which is why she jumps at the chance to go on a wilderness camping trip with her father. Not only does it greatly annoy her mother, she looks on the exercise as a plus in her anorexic experience.

Sandy has plenty of misgivings about the whole idea, but Rich and Sophie apply too much pressure for her to resist. So she decides to splurge and find her inner goddess at a new-agey retreat center, but she finds the experience tedious and trite. Rick and Sophie bravely set off together despite hardly knowing each other. At first things go well, but as the trip progresses, they become disillusioned and disappointed in each other. Instead of the respect Rich expected from his daughter, she disdains and snubs him, which causes him to make a series of bad decisions. In turn, Sophie finds her father to not be as cool as she had hoped and her snotty teenage behavior causes the situation to escalate into a full blown war of the wills between the two, with very dangerous consequences.

Despite the desperate and potentially life-threatening situation that the characters face, this is not a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat type story. The reader may experience a sinking feeling as the plot plays out, but there is hope that things will be okay despite the many foreshadowing hints too obvious to miss. But men being men and teens being teens, we all know that no good thing can happen when they bump up against each other, especially if they each had high expectations about the outcome of such a bonding experience. I found some things tedious here: Sandy’s exaggerated adherence to current “hip” environmental concerns, Rich’s exalted view of himself, Sophie’s total brattiness that surpassed normal teenage angst – but the story was interesting and the sense of place very strong and compelling. Over-the-topness notwithstanding, this is a debut novel worthy of a second read – and a good book group choice.

This is the author’s first novel.


Other titles you may enjoy:

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006)
In a crumbling house in the remote northeastern Himalayas, an embittered, elderly judge finds his peaceful retirement turned upside down by the arrival of his orphaned granddaughter, Sai.

The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (2008)
Witnessing what she believes to be the murder of an infant in a Depression-era Alabama mining town, nine-year-old Tess Moore and her civic-minded family subsequently struggle with the darker side of their racially torn community.

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty (2003)
Fending for herself in the wake of a chronically unemployed, dysfunctional mother, ten-year-old Evelyn Bucknow experiences feelings of confinement in their small Midwestern town and suffers the heartache of a first love.

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