Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review of The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong (Text Publishing, 2016)

Darren and Wally Keefe spend all their time growing up playing cricket in the backyard.  They hone their skills and rivalry through hours of contest while their single mother works in a bar to pay the bills.  Their passion and batting skills soon gets them noticed when they join a local team. A short while later they are the youngest members of the senior team and are breaking records.  As they progress into adulthood, Wally becomes taciturn and single-minded, determined to play for his country.  Darren falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes the bad-boy of Australian cricket.  Both become sporting stars, but their careers take different paths.  What remains constant is their sibling rivalry and an endless succession of ups and downs on and off the pitch.  However, as they enter middle-age, it seems as if Darren’s past has caught up with him as he’s driven from Geelong to Melbourne, locked in the boot of a car, gagged and cable-tied, a bullet in his knee.

The Rules of Backyard Cricket is a brilliant slice of literary Australian noir.  The story is told through twin narratives.  The first, which opens each chapter, details the attempt by Darren Keefe – a bad-boy of Australian cricket – to free himself from the confines of a car boot.  The second charts the childhood and careers of Darren and Wally, his elder brother who secures a place in the Australian national team and eventually becomes captain.  Throughout their careers the Keefe brothers experience a number of highs and lows, all the while maintaining their sibling rivalry and fierce devotion to their single-mother who made many sacrifices to make sure they succeeded in becoming professional cricketers.  The plotting, pacing and prose is superb, with Serong creating a convincing story of two brothers who seem to have it all but are always slightly out of their depth and attract tragedy as much as success.  The Keefes’ world is very well realised, with keen attention to detail with respect to the cricket, as well as its less attractive elements – indeed, the story had the feel of a well realised autobiography than a piece of fiction.  The characterisation and character development is excellent, with Darren Keefe in particular – with his frailties and complexities – being very nicely portrayed.  Given Darren is trussed inside the car boot throughout it’s clear where Serong is leading the tale, but the denouement still packs a powerful and surprising punch.  Overall, an excellent, engaging read that knocks the ball out of the park.

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