Hardly Children: Stories by Laura Adamczyk #thenavireview #bookreview #shortstories

Paperback, 240 pages
Expected publication: November 20th 2018 by Fsg Originals

An eerie debut collection featuring missing parents, unrequited love, and other uncomfortable moments

A man hangs from the ceiling of an art gallery. A woman spells out messages to her sister using her own hair. Children deemed “bad” are stolen from their homes. In Hardly Children, Laura Adamczyk’s rich and eccentric debut collection, familiar worlds–bars, hotel rooms, cities that could very well be our own–hum with uncanny dread.

The characters in Hardly Children are keyed up, on the verge, full of desire. They’re lost, they’re in love with someone they shouldn’t be, they’re denying uncomfortable truths using sex or humor. They are children waking up to the threats of adulthood, and adults living with childlike abandon.

With command, caution, and subtle terror, Adamczyk shapes a world where death and the possibility of loss always emerge. Yet the shape of this loss is never fully revealed. Instead, it looms in the periphery of these stories, like an uncomfortable scene viewed out of the corner of one’s eye.

Laura Adamczyk’s Hardly Children is a collection of uncomfortable moments – stories that aim to disquiet and sometimes even hit the mark. Well, they approach the mark, can see the mark, maybe even brush against the mark at their height, but never firmly hold the mark head on. You’ll feel the effects of these stories around the edges of your reader periphery. Some may love this disquieting quality in this short story collection, but I found it to be dry and evasive.

I am not a believer that just because a work (or collection of works, in this case) is literary it can’t have soul as well. I firmly believe that the two can coexist, that they can complement and enhance each other. But Laura Adamczyk’s debut collection succeeded at “eerie” while never etching any significance and depth into the literary canon. There are moments here, but that’s it. “Wanted” and “Girls” get so close to the edge of a reader’s comfort level that they could have been thrilling. If. If Adamczyk had taken another step, colored the picture further out from the middle and closer to the boundary lines. If she’d really taken us there and completed the thought with gumption and confidence. “Girls” plays with the tricks our childhood memories can play on us – how we can never remember everything perfectly, especially if the event was traumatic, playing with the fact that we block out things that are too painful to remember head on. But, ultimately, this collection of stories always pulled back before the big whammy to what felt like nowhere.

Admirably, the writing style in Hardly Children manages to be dry and vague, daring yet always just shy of spoken malice or descriptions that draw a full picture of said malice. These stories are told with innuendo, which is a great tactic, but I was never in love with this particular execution.

In this collection, you’ll find a seemingly innocent hug between a child and a stranger, and you’ll detect a hint of malice around it. You’ll see three little girls who watch their father leave their mother and then have a shared experience that traumatizes them so much they can’t even agree, after the fact – years later – on what really happened that day. And you’ll find a city where children – well, “hardly children,” as the author describes, those that are too grown and “strutting” for their own good – get kidnapped, never to be seen again, and a man who suspends himself by hooks in his skin for artistic installations.

The imagery in this collection brushes up against “beautiful” at times. There’s a straight-faced lyricism to it that does have its appeal, but the stories themselves are dry, empty shells of narration, often leading nowhere, making me feel nothing – worse than nothing: bored. It’s the kind of writing that has talent but no soul, ideas without the full range of narrative motion needed to execute them. That was disappointing, because the idea for this collection is intriguing. But, as we know, intrigue can only lead the horse to water; it can’t make it drink. **

I received an advance-read copy of this book from the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Girroux, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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