Cate Kennedy

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Flexion Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Cate Kennedy's Flexion. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Cate Kennedy

Born in 1963 in England, Cate Kennedy moved around with her parents throughout childhood, living in different parts of the U.K. and eventually settling in Australia. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Canberra and has since gone on to teach writing at several universities. Kennedy also worked as a community arts coordinator in Victoria, Australia, and spent two years teaching adult literacy in Mexico with Australian Volunteers International in the 1990s. Kennedy is the author of the award-winning novel The World Beneath, as well as a number of poetry and short-story collections, including Like a House on Fire (in which “Flexion” appears). Her short stories have also been appeared in publications like The New Yorker and Harvard Review. Kennedy is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Age Short Story Award, the NSW Premier’s People’s Choice Award, and the Stella Prize. She currently lives in Victoria.
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Historical Context of Flexion

Though the setting of “Flexion” is somewhat nondescript, it takes place rural Australia, likely in the mid-2000s. Australia is one of the most urbanized nations in the world—as of 2016, 90 percent of the population was concentrated in less than 1 percent of the country’s land area. As such, people like Frank and Mrs. Slovak, the main characters in the story who earn a living off of a one-man sheep farm, are the minority. Most of the growth and job opportunities in Australia arise out of major urban centers like Sydney and Melbourne, whereas rural farmers often struggle to make a living. This is certainly the case for the Slovaks: their house is run-down, Mrs. Slovak fantasizes about being able to afford a new car, and the couple must be diligent to keep the farm from going under after Frank has a serious accident. “Flexion” is thus a story that’s implicitly impacted by the modern Australian economy, as the Slovaks’ financial struggles subtly underpin their marital conflicts.

Other Books Related to Flexion

“Flexion” and the other short stories in Like a House on Fire are works of realism: they portray both the mundanity and the tragedy of everyday life in a pared-down, honest manner. Other realist books by Australian authors include Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend, Toni Jordan’s Nine Days, and Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows. In its focus on a troubled, imbalanced marriage, “Flexion” is similar to other short stories like Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter,” in which an estranged married couple confesses their secrets to each other during a power outage, and Edith Wharton’s “The Other Two,” in which gender inequality drives a wedge between two newlyweds. Additionally, Cate Kennedy has cited authors like Roald Dahl (Matilda), John Steinbeck (East of Eden) and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) as influences on her writing.
Key Facts about Flexion
  • Full Title: Flexion
  • Where Written: Australia
  • When Published: 2008 in Harvard Review; 2012 in Like a House on Fire
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: Rural Australia
  • Climax: As the Slovaks are lying in bed together, Mrs. Slovak takes Frank’s hand in hers and places it over Frank’s heart.
  • Antagonist: Frank Slovak
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Flexion

Short and Sweet. Cate Kennedy’s favorite short story is actually a classic children’s book: Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.