The Instructional Manual For Swallowing by Adam Marek is not your average book. It doesn’t quite fit anywhere, which is why you need to read it.
As I’m always searching for strange and wonderful short stories that match, and surpass, the likes of Etgar keret, I was really excited at the prospect of Robotic insects, a restaurant for zombies, and a woman pregnant with 37 babies. In truth, I was damn near peeing my pants. Marek didn’t disappoint, well, not too much. The first story really blew me away. 40 Litre Monkey tells the tale of a pet shop owner who measures all his animals by their volume. It was funny, sad and very surreal. My expectations were raised, and although the second story in the collection, the one about the pregnant woman with 37 babies, didn’t quite hit me squarely on the chin as the first, I could tell Marek had a gift for pulling you from the page.
The subsequent stories that followed had a little more weight to them, which is probably why they dragged me to real world very quickly. It’s not that these stories are bad, it’s just that based on the first two stories, I was convinced Marek would be my guide to the dark places in his mind. Instead, he decided it would be best all round to “coast” for a while before throwing back the curtain. Ramping it up with stories about a man fighting both testicular cancer and a monster tearing up the city, a boy who can extract cutlery from his body, and the title story which illustrates how the body might function if it was controlled from within by a person, makes Marek an author to keep your eye on.
Sure, with any short story collection, there are going to be lulls. Fortunately, there are not many here. From one story to the next, you’re caught between laughing, reeling back in surprise, and dropping to your knees with wonder. As the blurb perfectly illustrates, as you turn the first page you enter the “surreal, misshapen universe of Adam Marek’s first collection, where the body is fluid, the spirit mechanised and beasts often tell us more about our humanity than anything we can teach ourselves.”