I first came across Adam Marek in a cemetery, where he was reading a story by torchlight.
It was a dark unstormy night in November. In the chapel at Earlsfield Cemetery – lights dimmed for post-Halloween ambience – Adam read to audience at a Word Factory gathering called ‘Hauntings’, while I sat in the corner of the back pew. This was in 2013. Adam’s first collection came out in 2007 so he was already a belated discovery, especially for the likes of me whose job it is not to discover writers like Adam belatedly. A number of people had said ‘You really should read …’ But I was slow off the mark. I refuse to link those two statements …
So Adam read and I listened. And then I started to read. Early in 2014, we produced a series for Radio 4Extra entitled ‘The Stories Of Adam Marek’, selecting five tales from his published collections Instruction Manual For Swallowing and The Stone Thrower, and featuring perhaps his best-known piece, ‘The 40-Litre Monkey’. Later that year, Adam wrote ‘The Bullet Racers’ for our series Short Rides In Fast Machines, a tale in which a journalist investigates claims that a teenage boy ran faster than a gunshot in a village’s annual event.
Adam’s latest story, ‘Companions’, went out on Radio 4 on Friday 9 June (even this post is ‘belated’ – I’m rubbish at what I do) but please, please find it on iPlayer over the next 30 days. A young man is having problems in his relationship and confides in his grandmother. Nothing unusual there, except that his grandmother is long dead (he communes with her in dreams) and the woman in his life is a robot. Thankfully – for his sake – Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina it ain’t. Granted, it has been programmed to have moods, to be unpredictable, but nevertheless it is devoted to him. Even so …
Lee Ingleby is a fine actor and finds all the nuances, all the humour and the underlying darkness in his reading.
Currently, a writer friend of mine is collating responses to the question ‘What’s the point of short stories?’ I’m not going to take this on here – I’ll refer you to her when she’s ready. But Adam’s work is a coruscating example of what the short story can do, using the freedom of the form to entertain and disturb the reader or listener in equal measure. He takes ideas or random events or very strange things and drops them like paint bombs into the everyday. Once we’ve processed the massive splats and wiped our eyes, what we see in front of us is the all-too-human in high-vis colours. When you’ve assimilated the idea of creatures being quantified this way, the crazed pet-shop owner of the 40-litre monkey begins to look a bit like an insecure, hyper-motivated parent: obsessive and abusive, certainly, but also with a strange kind of love. While ‘Companions’ has a futuristic/sci-fi setting, it’s really a tale about loneliness, self-doubt and family shadows.
What’s the point of a short story? You might as well ask what a blackbird is for, or a monkey of unspecified volume. Whether you’re already a fan of Adam’s work or would like to discover him, I hope you’ll listen.
photo credit: Martin Cathrae <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/34067077@N00/5764381831″>Parental Fox</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>