Everything We Hoped For by Pip Adam
VUP $30

Pip Adam completed the MA Creative Writing Programme at Victoria University with Distinction in 2007 and is now at work on a PhD. Her first book, Everything We Hoped For, is a collection of 23 stories that reflect her devotion to the craft of writing. Most of the stories are indeed short (five to eight pages) and most hold hope at arm's length.

Adam's stories are like a stock that has been reduced to allow a concentration of flavour through a marriage of time and a handful of carefully selected ingredients. By sticking to the heart of the story and a piercing emotional core, she produces an intensity of flavour.

The intensity is assisted by pace. These stories snap and crackle with short, breathless sentences. The appearance, every now and then, of a longer sentence seems to be in tune with the emotional rhythm of the stories.

If the collection is like a well-reduced stock, it is also a barometer of the dark side of life. We get stories of dissatisfaction, dependency, dysfunction, violence, outsideness and failure. Such a bleak view of humanity means that these are stories of discomfort and you need to pick the right time to read them.

The first tale, A Bad Start, reads like a story that is hard to recount and the staccato sentences match it perfectly. A mother faces the arrival of an ugly baby and a life thrown out of kilter within the first few hours. This is no cosy view of the mother/baby relationship but a gritty window on how overworked hospitals reduce people to numbers and chores.

The final story, Daisy, returns to the mother/child relationship but it focuses on the little daughter pushing her trolley about, squishing food through her hair and sucking bubbles out of the sink.

Perhaps because of the preceding stories, we don't know if the mother walks off into the distance for a few hours or forever.

In between these two stories of beginnings, Adam crafts a variety of discomforts. The loathing one character feels for the city in Christchurch is like a rant in Cathedral Square. The city inhabitants are rich and white or zombies or as dead as the "expensive fur coat on the back of the chair".

In another story, Hank Nigel Coolidge, loathing is replaced by an understated sense of loneliness. This is one of countless examples where Adam sharpens the emotional impact in the showing and not the telling. A woman scoops up a thick and phallic earthworm and puts it in her pocket as her surrogate daughter. For a short time the woman has an earpiece that is far more rewarding than the voices at the end of the call-centre lines.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable and moving story to read was The Other Side Of The World (although this will depend on your own thresholds). Beth is the pinnacle of aloneness, having lost her partner, her children and her self-esteem through her own bad behaviour. She is dying and her family are flying half way round the world to be with her. It seems she will hold them at arm's length.

Adam knows how to brew a story to its essence and to infuse an emotional undercurrent that is deeply affecting. Love, warmth, hope and redemption are held at a distance, yet these too can provide narrative richness. I longed for them and superimposed them on the little girl holding back the tears as she pushed her trolley to the park in the final line of the final story.

Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's author.