‘The Centipede’s Wife’ by Adam Marek

Story premises don’t get better than this: a wounded man is trapped in a cabin with a giant centipede that won’t eat him because he smells like the centipede’s dead wife.

The centipede had been marching through the forest when he heard a scream and went to investigate. A man was caught in a bear trap. The metal jaws had made a mess of his right leg, biting in deep with rusted teeth and dead leaves. The man had forgotten his agony for a second when he saw the centipede, then redoubled his efforts to prize the trap open to escape. The centipede was joyous. This much meat would provide food for a week, but as he leaned in close to paralyse the man with a nip from his toxic pincers, he smelled something familiar. Something in the man’s sweat and fear reminded him of his wife. 

This brutal, heartbreaking story is so cleverly constructed, and such a great example of Marek’s technique of fusing the incompatible – in his words ‘making mayonnaise’ – that it really sinks its teeth into you (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Plus Marek makes it all feel so effortless, like this kind of starting point is the most natural and obvious thing in the world.  

Published in Instruction Manual for Swallowing, Comma Press, 2007

‘The 40-Litre Monkey’ by Adam Marek

‘I once met a man with a 40-litre monkey.’

Those nine words, perhaps the best opening sentence of any collection, were life-changing for me. I had been writing, badly, and then I picked up Marek’s Instruction Manual and read the first story in one gulp in the bookshop and thought: “Stories can be like that?” Smart, funny, spawned from Marek’s characteristically wicked imagination and his preoccupation with weird science, the story takes us to a pet shop with a greasy, over-fed, award-winning secret in the cellar. We are taken downstairs to meet Cooper the baboon (the only character with a name) and forced to bear witness to his sinister weighing, colluding with the atmosphere of simmering abuse and controlled threat that Marek conveys so well. I like stories that irrevocably change an otherwise normal life experience and this one certainly changed pet shops (and Vaseline) for me forever.

 in Instruction Manual for Swallowing (Comma Press, 2007)