The Instruction Manual for Swallowing by Adam Marek

I spent the fortnight of the challenge between March 25th – April 7th in the company of the often excellent and always interesting debut collection from Adam Marek. There are some absolutely blinding stories here, featuring such disparate subjects as robot wasps, a woman pregnant with 37 babies, a restaurant for zombies, and a pet shop where every pet is measured by volume.

The collection has many high points and largely manages to maintain this level of work, though, inevitably, a few stories fall short in the face of the truly exceptional ones. I suppose it says a lot about me as a writer as much as a reader that I enjoyed the more emotional stories, the most striking of which being those where the emotional core merged seamlessly with the more outlandish ideas; Belly Full of Rain, Testicular Cancer vs The Behemoth and Meaty’s Boys.

Having snagged a copy of Short Circuit, I also read Adam Marek’s contributing chapter in which he discusses what makes a great piece of short fiction. The idea he discusses, of merging something mundane with something extraordinary to create a unique piece of fiction, permeates all of the best stories in his collection, most notably, Belly Full of Rain, Testicular Cancer vs The Behemoth and Meaty’s Boys. Each of these tales has a unique concept yet is firmly grounded in emotional reality through the lens of the main characters.

Instruction Manual for Swallowing is a compelling collection that anyone trying to write contemporary short fiction should read. It shows what the medium is capable of and, while let down a little by a few weaker selections, the core of the book is swimming with originality and characters you can care about.

You can listen to Adam Marek read Testicular Cancer vs The Behemoth here and The 40 Litre Monkey here. If you like these stories, I’d recommend getting a copy of the collection.