Book review: Ladies And Gentlemen

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THERE’S something rewarding about reaching the twist in Futures, the first in this book of short stories by Adam Ross. We know a twist is coming, but there’s a niggling sense that Ross might just leave things open to interpretation.

Instead he wraps things up tightly, painfully, sates the reader with a twisted knife in his protagonist’s back in a moment that’s as emotionally grisly as it is unpredictable.

David Applebow needs a job, any job. Desperate, he answers the kind of too-good-to-be-true ad that one imagines no one could ever fall for. He’s drawn into what appears to be a new-age cult through a series of increasingly zany interviews. But just as he thinks his life is about to turn around for the better, he’s dealt a blow that will make readers wince.

Beyond the various plot kinks and twists in his short stories, Ross examines the moral lessons his characters take from the situations he puts them in, and more importantly what they take from each other.

A couple share with their married friends the story of a once-brilliant old classmate’s descent into mediocrity, an anecdote which prompts the listeners to re-examine their own relationship.

A lawyer trying to mend bridges with his screw-up brother is brutally betrayed just as he thinks they might be able to start afresh.

Ross is a gifted writer with a soft spot for the kind of stop-you-in-your-tracks twists that will have readers dropping their cups of tea, slow-mo, into their laps.

Characters receive their fair share of sucker punches, but Ross is particularly concerned with how they heal.

The last we see of David Applebow, he is reasoning that he must “bring no suffering, share no harm… because these were the only things about his future that he could control.”

He has gained something far more valuable than any job, and the reader leaves with something a little weightier than a mere juicy plot twist.

• Ladies And Gentlemen, by Adam Ross. Jonathan Cape, £12.99