Bird North and other stories by Breton Dukes review

by Sam Finnemore / 13 October, 2011
Breton Dukes is a recent graduate of Victoria University’s vaunted creative writing programme, and his earlier work in journals like Sport and Turbine gives some hint of what to expect from his debut collection – brief, stark sentences, uncompromising honesty in language and content, perfectly timed flashes of lyricism. The polished tales in Bird North and other stories add sudden contrasts and subtle confounding of a reader’s expectations into the mix, demanding careful reading – and rewarding it handsomely.

The cover blurb draws attention to Dukes’s focus on men’s lives and their local antecedents, and all the male characters here ring wryly and often hilariously true. Yet these pieces hinge on place just as much as gender: characters are seen knuckling down or breaking out from within regimented environments – hospitals, call centres, scheduled residential care – or elsewhere discovering their demons (or other unexpected challenges) reflected in seemingly empty natural surroundings. The title story is an excellent if brutal example, with scenes of careful normality bookending a terrible episode in the South Island wilderness; others take a less shocking but equally direct and honest approach, within settings ranging from the beach to a bottlestore.

Some standout stories have the unmistakable ring of lived experience behind them – call-centre chronicle The Moon, and the Orderly – which matches carefully built mood with a delightfully unexpected deus ex machina. Others build elegant character studies upon life changes from adolescence to marriage to unclehood, or on crises and moments of doubt (the grimly amusing tale of a blokes’ night out in “Johnsonville”). Confident, nuanced and unselfconsciously local, this is an accomplished debut.

BIRD NORTH AND OTHER STORIES, by Breton Dukes (Victoria University Press, $35).

Sam Finnemore is an Auckland reviewer.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Crooked: Is the back-pain industry doing more harm than good?
83311 2017-11-20 06:41:01Z Health

Crooked: Is the back-pain industry doing more harm…

by Jules Older

If shots and surgery and addictive pills don’t relieve back pain, what does? Jules Older talks to the author of a spine medicine exposé.

Read more
Win the Listener's 100 Best Books of 2017
83307 2017-11-19 16:57:02Z Win

Win the Listener's 100 Best Books of 2017

by The Listener

Each year, the Listener offers one lucky subscriber the chance to win all 100 of our Best Books.

Read more
Euthanasia referendum: Are opponents afraid of what the public might decide?
83261 2017-11-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

Euthanasia referendum: Are opponents afraid of wha…

by Graham Adams

When it comes to the issue of euthanasia, it’s hardly a face-off between two equal forces as the media likes to frame it.

Read more
How to fix your dry and gritty eyes
83273 2017-11-19 00:00:00Z Health

How to fix your dry and gritty eyes

by Nicky Pellegrino

If your eyes feel gritty or are sensitive to light, chances are you have blocked lipid glands.

Read more
How to take a break in one of the most isolated places on the planet, Antarctica
80515 2017-11-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

How to take a break in one of the most isolated pl…

by Guy Frederick

About four times each season, Kate Grenfell, a "domestic" at Scott Base, books in for a night at the world’s southernmost bach.

Read more
How should New Zealand tackle rising tensions in Asia-Pacific and Europe?
83284 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z World

How should New Zealand tackle rising tensions in A…

by Robert Patman

It's time for the big powers to get over their great power rivalries when it comes to international disputes in the 21st century. But what can NZ do?

Read more
Richard Evans: The historian who took on a Holocaust-denier
83242 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z Profiles

Richard Evans: The historian who took on a Holocau…

by Diana Wichtel

When Holocaust denier David Irving addressed the judge in his libel case as “mein Führer”, expert witness Richard Evans couldn’t believe his ears.

Read more
A book of required reading in our time of terror
83277 2017-11-18 00:00:00Z Books

A book of required reading in our time of terror

by Catherine Woulfe

Kamila Shamsie's new novel Home Fire is about the beguiling pull of violent causes.

Read more