Review: ‘Relativity’ by Ben Adams


Relativity is a sharply-written, comical look at the great enigma of the midlife crisis, caught from three unique perspectives. Harry, Timothy, and Dennis all find that they are maladjusted to the demands of the present. And so, in a frantic effort to reorient themselves, they revisit relationships and whet their priorities.

The dynamics between the characters are exhilarating, and continue to thrill as the complexity of the relationships deepens. That’s mainly due to the oversaturation of the men’s personalities, the almost cartoonish behavior that allows a note of silliness to permeate all facets of the narrative.

Harry, specifically, with his synthetic speech and skewered vision of the universe, lays a foundation of absurdism that demands the reader’s detachment from reality. His disproving of the laws of physics, Dennis’ impaired perception of the woman who desires him, and Timothy’s gaming lifestyle are all symptoms of the men’s desire for a life worth living. Each one of them grapples with an unthinkable delusion.

Naturally, this makes for great tension, which Adams then treats to a soak in seething satire. But as their folds begin to loosen in the natural stages of expansion, the seeds of comedy reveal a bitter shell. In particular, Timothy’s unusual fetish introduces the first germs of sorrow, which are then given half the book to flourish.

His extraterrestrialphilia, while outlandish enough to exhilarate, paints him as an outsider; one burdened with shame and guilt that grate against his once natural self-acceptance. Stuck in a verbally abusive and loveless marriage, he finds refuge in the fallacy of passion.

Dennis’s nostalgia tears into his present. Harry’s academic aspirations are heavily ridiculed, and years are shorn off his life. Any humor pertaining to the men’s conditions quickly withers away, leaving them on an anguished quest to salvage the last vestige of happiness.

As we embrace the gravity of the situation, the plot’s slow progress toward its resolution begins to pain us more than it ever provoked an inner back-and-forth. The novelty of both the characters and the story’s upbeat surrealism wears off, solidifying into the new status quo. Consequently, the plot often feels stagnant and as reluctant to gratify as a roll of dough crawling down the throat.

While the writing remains light and teasing throughout, the men’s emotional crises strain against the limits of language, contorting the novel’s tone. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as evident if it weren’t for the recurrent nature of the characters’ thoughts, which conveys the rut they’re in all too well.

In the end, Relativity morphs into a sort of Frankenstein’s Creature, especially where attraction and aversion overlap. With that being said, it’s a fun, mostly snappy read; one that regales us with the delectable ingenuity of its grand architect.

Publication date: June 7, 2022 (BHC Press)

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