Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

"The Stone Thrower" by Adam Marek (Comma Press, 2013)

On the back cover it says

  • "Pulsing at the core of Adam Marek's much-anticipated second collection is a single, unifying theme: ..." - this sounds like a polite way of saying that there's little thematic variety. A unifying theme doesn't necessarily improve a collection. In this case it does little harm.
  • "... a parent's instinct to protect a particularly vulnerable child" - it's a dominant but not monopolizing theme. And there's much compensatory variety of scene and voice.
  • "these stories demonstrate that, sometimes, only outright surrealism can do justice to the merciless strangeness of reality" - I didn't notice any outright surrealism. Or even plain surrealism.

Here's a brief theme-list

  • Fewer Things - Father-son bonding. Rites of passage. Mother absent (perhaps permanently).
  • Dead Fish (the title's a link to the previous story) - External narrator. Teenage dare. Gangs.
  • Tamagotchi - Father helping sick child who has seizures. A children's party goes wrong.
  • Without a Shell - Near future SF. War. Suicide bombers. Teenage dare.
  • The Stone Thrower - Father protecting family against superkid.
  • Remember the bride who got stung? - Father and mother compete to save son.
  • An industrial revolution - Near-future SF. Woman may have been more than a surrogate mother.
  • The Captain - Near-future SF. A children's party. Suicide terrorist in a dictatorship.
  • A thousand seams - Ill son. Fraternal friction. A public event that goes wrong for the family, the mother regretting the need for her son to avoid risk.
  • The Stormchasers - Father-son bonding. Mother ill, left at home.
  • Santa Carla Day - Public event. Rival fathers. Ill son. Public-event ceremonial dare that goes wrong.
  • Burying Chiyoko Sasaki - Father and another man compete for upbringing of daughter.
  • Earthquakes - Mother pleading funds for her ill son, aged 9, whose seizures make the world tremble

These themes and a few others recur (parental guilt and responsibility; ill children; character-based near-future SF; off-screen event later explained; children with pencils/pens; broken glass; bee stings; vomiting/trembling; injections) though the locations and eras change. The main poles are Self, World, Animals and Family, where the Self-World relationship is less antagonistic than the one between Family and World. Public events and parties tend to be used as means towards unpleasant ends when control of relationships in private settings doesn't turn out well. The narrational voice varies - in "Fewer Things" the (too knowing?) narrator's a boy; "Dead Fish" has almost a first person plural voice.

There are some attention-catching first lines -

  • "We go down to the beach at dawn to stop the chicks from choking" (p.1)
  • "My son's Tamagotchi has AIDS" (p.17)

and some story-twisting final lines -

  • "Only she and I know that the story about the dentist was a terrible lie" (p.115)

The title story begins with "Hal was awakened by a brief expletive from one of the chickens outside". Could these chickens speak? The use of "Hal" strengthened this SF suspicion (which turned out to be false).

The SF and shades of magic-realism are kept real by the same attention to detail that sustains the other stories - e.g. "He tipped the [dust]pan back and shook it to shuffle the glass fragments close together" (p.144); a mother worries about whether her son will get into a good school. I found all the characters believable. I got the least out of "Earthquakes" (18 pages) and "An industrial revolution" (17 pages), though all the stories made me want to read on. He doesn't linger over descriptions, nor do characters agonize for paragraphs over what to do.

Other reviews

  • Melissa Lee-Houghton (The Short Review) (Something that interests me throughout the collection is the way in which, for the characters, their situations have been normalized. There’s an ordinariness to each extraordinary story or observation.)
  • Anthony Cummins (Observer) (Sometimes you feel the restrictions of space prevent Marek developing his scenarios more fully)
  • Alfred Hickling (Guardian
  • Stephen Finucan (Toronto Star)
  • Good reads

No comments:

Post a Comment