Julia has landed a fresh start – at a ‘pan-European’ restaurant.
‘Imagine that,’ says her mother.
Nick is flirting with sobriety and nobody else. Did you know: adults his age are now more likely to live with their parents than a romantic partner?
Life should have started to take shape by now – but instead we’re trying on new versions of ourselves, swiping left and right, and searching for a convincing answer to that question: ‘What do you do?’
A compact set of contemporary short fiction, Jem Calder’s Reward System explores the millennial experience, modern life, getting older, and trying to solidify what it is we want from our jobs.
Reward System is six short stories, each varied in length and containing an assortment of characters who make an appearance across different stories – characters move in and out of stories almost like adult friends do. Jem has a rather skilled ability to capture the micro, minute details of everyday interactions – implied meaning, concealed desire, for example. Dialogue is quite bare but conveys all that it needs to.
“Because she knew her mother didn’t have many people to talk to her in life and that Wednesdays marked the remotest point of interspace between her Sunday fellowships at St Mike’s, Julia made it a midweek habit to FaceTime with her during the breaks that divided her split shifts at the kitchen.”
Each short story is broken up further into scenes and shorter snippets, allowing for somewhat of a staccato reading experience. It feels like what we’re experiencing of these characters is just a very tiny glimpse into a much wider story, and so it leaves you wanting more.
My favourite story is the first one – A Restaurant Somewhere Else – which also happens to be the longest one (107 pages). It certainly feels like the most fully-developed story, with a slower build and comprehensive character reactions. It is also a rather quirky and enticing setting, Julia being a sous chef at a rather up-market restaurant, surrounded by quite a large suite of eccentric characters to keep the story anchored and to maintain momentum.
“Pretty celibate this whole past year, actually. With only a wall separating her from Margot and only a global cellular-network connection separating Margot from her older sister…Julia had been too sound-and-space-conscious to bring any boys back to the apartment since moving in.”
Whilst I did find a couple of the stories a little dry and slow, and I did skim read over some paragraphs that I found a little monotonous, Jem will find loyal readers in those who appreciate short story collections. The package itself is gorgeous – hardback, smaller in size, with bold colours of orange, green and blue.
“Walking home, he said he was still hungry, and when they got back to his apartment, she baked two peaches and watched as he ate them both with ice cream. He was maybe the most unselfconscious eater she had ever seen, perhaps also the greediest.”
Observant and insightful, Jem Calder’s Reward System is recommended for readers of short fiction, novellas, and literary fiction. Readership skews 30+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Allen & Unwin Book Publishers