Not so much a novel than a series of short stories, which potentially could have been far less satisfying than a single story. But no need to worry on this score because Szalay has produced a work of fiction that is every bit as absorbing as anything a high quality novel might offer. And here's the wonderful thing. After each magically produced story the reader is momentarily left frustrated that it's all come to such a sudden and premature end, but almost immediately Szalay has us totally gripped by the next totally discreet story with its totally new set of characters. That is surely a real skill and for me, Szalay does not put a foot wrong. Every character and every piece of dialogue is so genuinely convincing that by the end of the nine stories I was left with a sense of reader satisfaction as complete as any conventional novel could ever hope to deliver.

All That Is Man delivers a much needed antidote to the glossy Hollywood version of human relationships. Focusing primarily on how men, alienated as they are in the twenty first century, try, invariably unsuccessfully, to find some sort of belonging and contentment in a cold harsh world of alienating materialism. That is the common theme and it binds the collection of stories so tightly together that by the end you really do feel that Szalay has produced a single coherent novel. The material circumstances of the main protagonists may vary widely but their common sense of desperation pervades every story. There are no happy endings here, nor is there any real sense of finality. Instead we are just left with an all-pervading sense of everyday hopelessness.

 

Now that may seem a depressing scenario for some, but I found the collection strangely liberating.

A sense of bewildering alienation may seem a grim prospect but it can also be a useful starting point for what might turn out to be an ultimately satisfying journey. As the old cliche would have it; you sometimes need to reach rock bottom before you can begin to see the light. Stripped of its quasi-religious connotations, this can be a useful guiding philosophy. An even more apposite adage might be that the destination is meaningless, it's the journey that matters. And of course, in a purposeless universe there is no preordained destination, just the endless struggle for survival and meaning. Can man find joy in that? Szalay's work seems to beg that question. It's all a matter of perspective I guess. One man's crushing alienation is another man's precious and joyful journey. We could conclude, as one of Szalay's characters does at the end of story seven: Aye, fuck the lot of it. Or we could equally conclude; that was interesting, now on to the next chapter of my journey.

End JPK Copyright, 4/6/16

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 May 2018 09:45 )