Ladies and Gentlemen by Adam Ross

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Ladies and Gentlemen by Adam Ross

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Seven tales that might seem too similar, but in the end are only so in quality.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224087742

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Adam Ross's characters are driven - but I mean that in the wrong way. They're not the ones riding on a crest of a wave of motivation, steering their course through life. No, instead they are passengers, and who or whatever is at the wheel seems to have lost the satnav. So, in 'Futures', a middle-aged unemployed man finds himself giving life lessons and a kick up the backside to a teenaged neighbour just as his own career seems about to enter its nth phase, with an airy-fairy psychic-oriented company that won't ever go as far as telling him what his job might be. A professor who has to settle temporarily where his work takes him and not where he would like, has to wonder what to do when told of the action-packed adventures of a devil-may-care, come-what-may mechanic.

Here's a woman we're told about who is an abject lesson in seeking perfection. We're told about her by characters who have her photo on display and you have to ask why, come the end; perhaps they're just not driven enough to remove it. Here's the danger in going round in circles, taken to extreme, and juxtaposed with not moving at all, also taken to extreme.

But before I make you think all the seven stories here are geared towards the one and the same subject, let me assure you that only serves as some loose hook to hang a slightly-themed collection upon. The stories do get a little too similar at times - there are several professors, and everyone has, or is about to get, a graduate career. Throughout, Ross has a fresh, warm style, with a concise clarity for describing any aspect of his character's lives, whether the interior thoughts of the brother wondering how to engage with his wayward sibling or a pre-teen TV advert star having a crush on someone else he helps into the industry, or the goings-on in the apartment stairwell our man in 'Futures' encounters.

It's a lovely style, and the result is a firm hand on narrative interest (you won't guess where the opening story is going whatsoever) and on character. Despite the slightly middle-class feel of the majority of the people he invents, the emotional depth only adds to a high brand of realism - if you exclude the narrative offered about the perfect woman.

By the end we see the confidence of someone picking the path less signposted, however - letting go of the wheel. Perhaps being driven - in the wrong way - isn't too bad after all.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy. We also have a review of Mr Peanut by Adam Ross.

For fans of rich, warm yet slightly dark short stories, there is also While the Women are Sleeping by Javier Marias.

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