Books by Glenda Adams

Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Stories within stories, like a set of Russian nesting dolls, this latest from Australian writer Adams (Longleg, 1992, etc.) is striking work—both lyrical and enigmatic, with the grander components of a fairy tale forming the contours of its frame. Thirteen-year-old Clemenza is dying. Her unnamed illness threatens the sweet existence she shares with her mother Abel, yet the two persevere, vacationing in Vermont and enjoying their cabin's lakeside pleasures. On a dramatically stormy night, a mysterious woman, who looks like Abel's twin, explodes into the cabin in search of a missing manuscript she believes to be in the house. Though the woman leaves empty-handed, Abel later finds the missing pages hidden at the bottom of some recently purchased used books. Clemenza, hungry for an unattainable future, asks her mother for stories of life and love, making the discovery of the manuscript all the more captivating—since it's the diary of a 16- year-old Sydney suburbanite, circa 1956. The discovery is a double delight for Abel, because she too is Australian, and the pages were written in the year of her birth. They offer the simple, idyllic memories she craves, so different from her own dour childhood. And Cornelia Benn's chronicle is in fact a lovely account of innocence and experience, of Australia in the '50s, of dances and first jalopies and declarations of everlasting love. Inserted into Cornelia's diary is the mystery-adventure she's writing. One narrative moves seamlessly into the next, foreshadowing the events of Abel's life until Abel and Clemenza's own unhappy story is finally told, including the tragic event ten years prior that drove them to escape to America. Coincidences and look-alikes are deftly manipulated here by Adams, making the novel playfully Shakespearean in its climactic revelations of true identities and linking elements. Adams captures the right tone for each narrative, creating a haunting and compelling work. A distinctive and likable novel. Read full book review >
Released: May 25, 1989

Lackluster futuristic novel about a young woman's resistance to a totalitarian regime, by Australian-born Adams (Dancing on Coral, 1987). Heroine Neila becomes an enemy of the state (the "Complex") because she believes her parents were killed as resisters. Placed in a household of ultra-orthodox Complexers, she hides her tree thoughts, even after falling in love with foster brother Lak. But things are not as they seem: her foster family is arrested and disappears; Neila's dissident companions (evil, voluptous Serena; powerful Wils, who briefly becomes Neila's lover) may or may not be double agents; Neila herself ends up as Acting Minister of Information for the Complex—in which capacity she risks her own freedom, hoping to undermine the system, release political prisoners, and find Lak. Her adventures take her to the different territories of the Complex—including the Mountain (inhabited by a distinctive ethnic group from which Neila is in part descended) and the Island (the penal colony where resisters are dumped). Unfortunately, characters shift sides, appear and disappear, rise and fall from power for no apparent reason in almost dreamlike fashion, so that their dilemmas and the authoritarian menace they face never seem quite real. The author's creation of a Mountainer language and ethnography, and examples of Complex propaganda are ambitious but not inventive enough to add much intellectual spice. As for the title, the Games of the Strong (an Olympics-like extravaganza) barely figure in the book; presumably Adams intends a more far-reaching metaphoric meaning. A well-intentioned but familiar cautionary tale. Read full book review >
Released: May 25, 1989

Short story collection, released simultaneously with Adams' novel (see above): a dozen rather slight stories, some experimental in structure, few more than ten pages in length. In the title piece, the narrator is born on "the hottest night of the century"—the same night her father is brought to the mental hospital for observation after trying to swim from Australia to New Zealand or possibly Chile. She recalls childhood memories, including her cruelties to her little brother and an exchange with her father: "I don't know why I try to keep on living," to which she answers "So why do you?" shortly before he drowns. The events are all recounted in a matter-of-fact tone, drawing no links or conclusions. Most of the stories are somewhat feminist, whether surreal in tone ("The Music Masters": a girl's artistic aspirations are thwarted by the men in her life who use both high and low culture as shield and weapon against her; "The Hollow Woman": a woman in training to be a princess is taught to be motionless, to humble herself, to support pain and discomfort without a word) or realistic ("Wedding"; "Marguerite"; "Summer in France": all sketches of unsatisfactory marriages, the latter featuring Lark, the heroine of Adams' previous novel, Dancing on Coral). Individually, these stories are competent, occasionally amusing or moving—but, collected here, bizarre conceits are too often a substitute for drama, and Adams' wit lacks real bite, undermining the cumulative effect. Read full book review >