Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review : Derek Hayes - The Maladjusted (2011)


Country: Canada

Genre: Literary

Pages: 203


I don't watch TV. I have nothing in common with Chandler, Joey or Ross. My alley's good for entertainment. My fire escape is on the fourth floor and, because of some creepers - really weeds what I've tended that have climbed up from some dirt  in three mouldy flowerpots - I am afforded some camouflage, allowing me to watch while being unobserved.

You don't hear too often of Canadian writers that make it big. There's Margaret Atwood, sure. Timothy Findley was up there too, when he was alive. Really, the two other names that might ring a bell to you are Jennifer Hillier and Hilary Davidson, who have been taking crime/mystery fiction by storm since last year. I'm not sure yet if Derek Hayes will reach international success, but he's a name you want to keep on your radar. His short stories collection THE MALADJUSTED caught my eye because of the Martin Amis blurb on the back cover. Turned out the legendary British author was right to put his name on Hayes' book. THE MALADJUSTED is a work of great ambition, with a voice that echoes the best storytellers of the genre. Granted it doesn't tell too much about Hayes' storytelling, it gives you just enough to want more.

There are sixteen stories to THE MALADJUSTED. They are well presented, in a cohesive package. The titles refers to a group of people you all know, but never named before. People who have difficulty to get up to speed with society's requirements. People who end up adrift, psychologically or literally. It's a very subtle, pinpoint problematic that Derek Hayes have chosen, but he knows what he's talking about. For example, in A FEEL FOR AMERICA follows English teachers in Asia and exposes a different side to this adventure most people think about doing once in their lifetime. The loneliness, the alienation, the longing for something they cannot define. I've seen this in many travelers, but it's the first time I see it so well defined in fiction. IN THE LOW POST, my favorite story of the collection, attacks another kind of ill, the channeling of alienation. In this case, he used basket-ball as an example of how an angry, alienated young man tries to get in tune with society  through sports.

Let's dig a little deeper into that. Sports, as a mean of entertainment or as a simple activity, have a haunting presence in Derek Hayes' stories. In fact, Hayes has a pretty original point of view on the subject. They're a microcosm where social inhibitions are lifted, because the individual is defined by a clear set of rules. They're a way for the characters to suppress the unpredictability of society for a certain time and invest themselves in something they understand and believe in. It's their little way of having control about who they are. It's a little complex said like that, I know. But it's very well rendered in Hayes' fiction, very subtle and touching. I thought it's what he did best with this collection. It's not the only thing he did well, though. On a more mechanical aspect, you will find a lot to like, too. Hayes has a knack for inner dialogue, a precision with describing feelings that you won't come across too often.

A toxic, lacerating feeling grows in my stomach. I'm normally not the jealous type. I'm actually a very funny person. I'm interesting too. Which isn't to say that I'm funny or interesting or at peace with myself right now. But it isn't me. My thinking right now, my point of view, my being has been compromised. Mostly by events out of my control.

Of course, THE MALADJUSTED suffers if you start comparing and it's hard not to do, since it plays in themes so similar to short stories masters like Raymond Carver. While Hayes' voice and angle are his own, the stories lack a little consistency. Stories like IN THE LOW POST, SHALLOWNESS and MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET BACK HERE make their point so strongly, that others appear unfocused and shallower than the rest (only two stories out of the sixteen made me groan, it's still good math). Really, THE MALADJUSTED is short stories like I love to read them. A collection focused around certain themes, heading in a clear direction and most important, it's bold as hell.  While Derek Hayes doesn't hit the mark with every story, it's not because he doesn't try. I love it when a writer aims that high. I'll keep an eye out for a novel in the future. I'm sure he's going to be even better when he dives deeper into his characters. 

THREE STARS

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