Adam Marek, The Stone Thrower (2012)

Who is the Stone Thrower? In the title story of this, Adam Marek’s second collection, he is a boy killing the chickens  of the lakeside house that Hal’s family is renting. Hal pulls out all the stops to save his birds, demonstrating an action hero’s dexterity – but he is unprepared for just how determined the boy is to achieve his goal. In the collection as a whole, the figure of the Stone Thrower may the extraordinary forces at work in Marek’s stories, forces that may inspire extraordinary (to us, at least) responses in the adult characters seeking to protect their charges (chickens in Hal’s case, but more often children).

Marek’s tales typically begin with what appears to be a fairly unremarkable situation, but as they develop we may discover that not all is as it seems. In ‘The Stormchasers’, a father heads out with his son Jakey to go looking for a tornado. At story’s end, however, we find that the true purpose of that journey was to protect Jakey from a different kind of storm which has been going on at home. ‘Remember the Bride Who Got Stung?’ sees Victor out on a picnic with his family, when his allergic son Nate is stung by a bee; having left behind Nate’s shots , Victor determines to get the child’s adrenaline flowing – by any means necessary.

That latter story in particular illustrates one of Marek’s common techniques: to show how particular circumstances have shaped a character’s psychology in ways that appear reasonable to them, but may not to an outside observer like the reader. But – like many of The Stone Thrower’s tale’s – ‘Remember the Bride’ is understatedly and elegantly fantasticated. The appearance of a bee is a rare occurrence in the world of this story; and that’s the only hint we receive that we may be reading about a near future.

When Marek writes about the future (or an alternative present), there’s usually a greater degree of difference than that; but he’s always primarily concerned with the characters and their relationships. ‘Tamagotchi’ sees a new, more sophisticated, generation of those virtual pets on the market. Young Luke has a Tamagotchi which is sick, and spreading that sickness to other children’s pets; one parent asks that he keep away from the other children at a birthday party. But Luke is also epileptic, and his parents talk about him having a “design fault”: the stigma of having a sick Tamagotchi shades into how Luke is treated because of his condition, and affects the way his parents think about him. Sometimes this kind of mirroring extends further outwards: in ‘A Thousand Seams’, a mother clutches her ill son in the midst of a protest and tells him, ‘”WI’m going to make everything okay”. It’s an open question whether the boy or society is more threatened by having too much pressure placed on their respective weak points.

The collection ends with ‘Earthquakes’, which tells of a boy named Toby who has a rare condition that induces seizures which have external effects. The effect is different in each case (Toby’s seizures cause earth tremors), but no children with the syndrome have yet lived into their teens. The format of this story gives it a slightly different tone from most of the others in The Stone Thrower: it’s written as a generic fundraising letter – the details of the case are specific, but there’s just a placeholder for the recipient. So we have a curious mix of the personal and impersonal: there’s enough of a story about the text that it carries emotional weight; but there is also a sense that it may all be fake, a marketing document generated to drum up sympathy and cash. Even if we accept ‘Earthquakes’ as genuine, it feels like a lonely cry in the dark, because the mother writing this letter doesn’t know if anyone will ever read it. But, as ever in Marek’s stories, the adult characters will go to any length for their children if the circumstances demand it.

This book has been shortlisted for the 2013 Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Click here to read my other posts on the shortlist.