The Stone Thrower
By Adam Marek. ECW, 180 pp, softcover
Not many writers could open a story with the line “My son’s Tamagotchi had AIDS.” Even fewer have the chops to sustain such a morbid joke (juxtaposing a rinky-dink ’90s kids’ toy with a devastating disease) for a dozen pages. And fewer still could inject the story with layers of pathos, empathy, and raw-nerved emotion—with impeccable prose, to boot. With The Stone Thrower, his second story collection in as many years, British author Adam Marek enters some very rare company.
Marek’s most obvious strength is hooks: these are stories designed to draw readers in with a tractor beam. The above-mentioned “Tamagotchi” is a prime example. So, too, are “Earthquakes”, about a child whose seizures are so strong that they’re able to shake the earth itself, and “Santa Carla Day”, where an annual small-town ritual involving adolescent boys wrestling de-toothed sharks takes a turn for the worse. Unlike the sharks—but exactly like the fictional knuckle-fish in the outstanding opening story, “Fewer Things”—Marek sinks his hooks into you within seconds.
He also has a talent for knowing just which details to omit. In “An Industrial Evolution”, a man and a woman venture into an isolated camp in Sumatra, where several hundred extra-civilized orangutans perform manual labour and live in dorms, all while under constant scientific supervision. The year is 2044, and while it’s eventually revealed that the colony is a result of cloning, there’s another wonderfully twisted premise floated but never acknowledged directly: at some point, a human and an orangutan crossbred. These primates stand tall, wear T-shirts, lurk outside doorways.
What’s most surprising about The Stone Thrower, though, is how the disparate stories all orbit the exact same question: how does a parent protect a vulnerable child? The biography on Marek’s website reveals that his own son has autism spectrum disorder, learning difficulties, and “hard-to-control” epilepsy, which, he acknowledges, inform much of this new collection.
Seen in this light, the stories are not just wild and engaging, but also a necessary way for the author to make sense of the world. So the anonymous stone thrower in the title story, who’s able to kill a series of chickens with superhuman accuracy from across a lake, is not some vague metaphor for random pain and suffering. It is a specific personification of a fear felt daily.
And like those stones, the story itself hits an unequivocal bull’s-eye.