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Book Review :: Reward System by Jem Calder

Reward System by Jem Calder book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Jem Calder’s collection of interlocking short stories in Reward System follows a group of British Millennials, focusing on Julia and Nick, as they try to navigate relationships, technology, and jobs during the approaching pandemic. Calder renders his characters with sympathy and compassion, even when they make poor decisions, given the challenges they face. Julia and Nick (and their friends) live with roommates or their parents, move from one job to the next—sometimes by choice, sometimes not—and try to find ways to truly connect with those around them. Society exacerbates all of these problems, whether the structural oppression women (especially) push against or the technology that more often separates than connects (though not always). This focus on technology works especially well in the stories “Distraction from Sadness Is Not the Same Thing as Happiness” and “The Foreseeable.” In “Distraction” a female user of a dating app connects with and meets a male user (Calder uses no names), exploring the new dating landscape, for good and ill. “The Foreseeable” ends the collection, as Julia and Nick are both sheltering with their parents during the pandemic—one more enjoyably than the other—while talking via FaceTime. The connection keeps breaking in and out, a metaphor for all of the relationships in this collection.

Reward System by Jem Calder. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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