Hardly Children: Stories by Laura Adamczyk

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How strange when strangers tried to step inside of you, I thought. Like when men in rags announced themselves to a train car, telling everyone about their lives, their current states of disrepair and what they wanted, needed, God Bless, from everyone, which somehow included you, and you kept your head down, reading the same sentence again and again, never quite taking hold of it, and the harder your tried, the more the men’s voices got in your ear, the more like they were speaking only to you.

These stories are intense and unsettling. Children stretching into the eerie, harshly brutal light of adulthood as the sisters in Girls deal with their father leaving, and their mother now the head of the house. Their Saturdays spent exploring the series of rooms upstairs of their great-grandmother’s big rambling house while their mother worked, as if entering a strange world unsupervised, where their imaginations could run free. But one day, a door to the room they never entered is cracked and there they come across a very real adult. When the man says their names ‘like a little song’, it feels like an omen. Is the memory real? In Too Much A Child, an old man tells of the era when children were disappearing, just being taking if someone had a mind to take.  It is happening again, what is the logic, are ‘bad’ children being weeded out of the good? So begins the marching, but our narrator doesn’t really want to become one with many, despite the injustice. It hints at the ways we are immune to horror, being past a certain age (in the story) but could as easily translate as being a different sex, or out of the time period so safe from history or simply one’s ethnicity if you boil it down. We can be the ones who are safe and look away or we can see.

A man named Adam becomes a part of an art installation where he is suspended by hooks, but the hooks of truth sink into him when his father divulges the long-held secret of his origins. Will he ever ‘come down’ and own this new version of his life? Is it easier for Adam, or any of us, to just remain floating in the before? Must we confront the after? Do things really ever have to change? Much like the furniture in the installation, nothing fits the same after it’s been rearranged.

My favorite, the one that horrified me the most is Danny Girl. It is the whisper of the dangers that always lurk for young girls that made this one stand out. The dreadful ending shook me. Being a young girl can feel so dumb when you don’t know what you should. Being a girl is always full of threats. Girls come to terrible ends, sometimes at their own hands too, sometimes by accident.

Children and adults may be one in the same as in this collection full of characters who have slipped between the cracks, existing in a place where they’ve yet to embrace the world of adults, but do we ever? People abandon responsibilities or reconfigure their futures, break up their family, or start a new one. Whether its sisters needing each other when life just keeps going wrong, and using pieces of hair to start messages to begin meaningful conversations, or a woman dating a nice virginal boy who isn’t enough for her appetite,  every story engages the reader. The writing is clever, painting feelings with sentences “my laughter comes up like seltzer” and “we released each other, our faces smeared with time and truth.”  I feel like I need to read a novel by Laura Adamczyk, she visits the places in her writing where my mind often meanders. A solid collection! Can’t wait for a novel!

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

FSG Originals

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