4/5 Stars; Literary
Humanity is broken. Humans wade in a sea of existence, waiting for the next wave to lift them up. They can't uplift each other, because they exist as an island, isolated in their minds.
Humans chase after what might give life meaning—drugs, alcohol, technology, sex, politics, meditation, relationships, avoidance—and in doing so they allow their fear, selfishness, and falseness to trip the other contestants in the race.
Each of the characters in James McAdams's short story collection, Ambushing the Void, are broken people. They move forward in life with an air of ambivalence, in a kind of directionless meandering, sometimes pausing to reflect. What they reflect upon is most often disappointing, and they experience sorrow for failed relationships, regret for actions not taken, bitterness for their lot in life. In some cases, their physical bodies waste away in tandem with their life trajectory and emotional well-being. At the end of the day, they find themselves wondering what it was all for and recognize, in retrospect, how it could all have been different. The final story seems to focus the theme of the collection on an overarching question: "What will your obituary say?"
McAdams displays a 360-degree view of these characters that manifests their complexity in rich detail. The characters are drug addicts, salesmen, sock puppets, invalids, strippers, medical students, plumbers, and valedictorians. They live in group homes, work for newspapers, hack their neighbor's internet, and care for others. They are complex, intelligent, cynical, innocent, guilty, and loving. And they are dissatisfied with life.
This collection is an honest, gritty representation of the light vs. dark, love vs. fear dualities of life, told in McAdams's sharp, unflinching style and the occasional lyrical Joycean line that stealthily and beautifully brings the story home:
I hear figures in the shadows, calling out the names of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, partners, ex-partners,
colleagues, neighbors, babysitters, nurses, surgeons, bankers,
bus drivers, all of them God's children, the names wailing through the night, rising and falling like a natural thing, the sun, the moon, the tide coming in and out, washing our love away.
Content warning: this collection contains strong language and references to drugs and sex.
for an interview with the author himself
in the coming weeks.
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