Only disconnect

by Louise O'Brien / 17 July, 2010
Pip Adam's characters are tourists in their own lives.

Pip Adam's debut collection of short stories, Everything We Hoped For, introduces a strong, distinctive voice to the local literary scene, although not one that will suit

all tastes.

This slim book, which is published by VUP and comes out of the creative writing programme at Victoria University, offers a satisfyingly diverse cast of characters and scenarios - 23 stories in 190 pages.

Perhaps appropriately, the book begins with a shocked new mother in the immediate aftermath of birth, whose emotions are as anaesthetised as her battered body; her incomprehension is nicely underlined by references to the baby as "it".

Another story centres on a soldier returned from a foreign field to a life he watches as if it's not his own, and into which he no longer fits, if indeed he ever did. An employee of a $2 Shop endures the tedium of his working life by embracing a drug-induced catatonia, a numbing of the emotions that is also a suppression of his homosexuality. A party girl lurches from one period of consciousness to another, trying both to piece together and evade the events that occur in the blackouts accompanying her drinking binges; her life happens without her being present in it, without her participation and even outside her memory. An addict in rehab survives an onslaught of compassion through a strategy of passive resistance, resolving not to care.

What binds the stories of Everything We Hoped For so cohesively is a common deadness at the core of the characters, a disconnection between them and the world around them that numbs their emotions and strangles their experience. One character describes her life as being "like a bad book. It didn't even feel like a dream, it was so mundane. It felt like daytime TV." Variously sought in drugs or alcohol, or as a refuge from fear or pain, this refusal or inability to engage leaves Adam's characters as tourists in their own lives, in the position of observing themselves, just as the reader does. Disempowered and uninvolved, they are desolate characters living in a threatening world.

The narrative voice - also consistent in tone and style across the collection - is emphatically contemporary and youthful. The sentences are short, sharp and even, producing a staccato rhythm with an inexorable and rather ominous momentum. The writing is stark, using a matter-of-fact tone that highlights the agonies of its characters, while also having the effect of distancing them yet further from their emotions.

So what is initially a striking feature of Everything We Hoped For - the bleak hole at the emotional centre of the characters - becomes, en masse, a hole in the characterisation itself. These characters are emotionally incomplete and unavailable, making it difficult for the reader to understand or empathise with them, and reluctant to spend too much time with them, either.

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