Reward System by Jem Calder review – generation Zzzz

Six interlinked stories aim to capture the uncertainty of young adulthood today with mixed results

These six short stories are almost a novel, interlinked by characters who drift and reconnect with one another in the way friends do, living a big-city, post-university life. And this is Calder’s canvas: young adulthood, and a generation simultaneously bound to one another via social media and yet lost in a disconnected modern world. It comes, helpfully, with a glowing quote from that generation’s chronicler-in-chief, Sally Rooney, who calls Reward System “an exhilarating and beautiful book”.

They’re not necessarily the two adjectives I find myself reaching for. Calder’s stories are impressively detailed in their fine-grain attention to the banal stuff-of-life and his characters’ inner agonies – from panics over not being able to remember if you locked a door to awkward social interactions in the workplace. But he writes with a cool, contemporary detachment rather than much heat.

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