Imagine, if you will, a story about a near 30-year-old, Sebastian, who is on a mission to pass his driving test before his partner, Sophia, gives birth to their first child. So determined is he to pass that he whisks himself away for a week-long intensive course on the other side of the country, and spends his evenings alone, either on the phone to Sophia or reading his Highway Code. Well… Our guy might be pretty ordinary with cars, but we are looking at a good man here. Oh and he is also something of a jet setter, flying frequently to Los Angeles, so there’s some sophistication and not a little money in the mix too. From here, we the reader could take a fair stab at sketching his world: what he might do for a living, his leisure interests and social milieu. Sebastian and Sophia – bright, young and happy things. But just in case you are struggling, Adam O’Riordan has rather charitably knifed his own story, just to help you out:
…I’d tell people we met at dinner parties, decent, artistic, liberal people, that I was a non-driver and they’d look at me like I’d just told them I was illiterate…
But if you are still not seeing how elevated, how fucking lovely our couple are, the author has left no stone unturned. Here’s Sebastian and Sophia, a director of plays and indie film (of course!), debating healthy kids’ meals:
We were driving out to Sophia’s godmother’s house for the weekend. The twins were in the back lobbying for a Jack in the Box. We’d agreed on one ‘Non-Health Meal’ a week – Sophia’s phrasing, not mine. Personally, I thought a bit of junk food did them no harm but Sophia was more militant. ‘Don’t’, she said, looking across at me, sipping from her bottle of Kombucha, a fermented Chinese tea.
Given the absence of satire or subversion – we are meant to fall in love with the characters just the way they are – the over-egging is criminal. And this is but one of several flaws present in The Burning Ground by Adam O’Riordan.
Elsewhere we find characters who are clichéd and unengaging, as well as stories with too many tangents adding little to the whole. Frustratingly, the story ideas are strong – the man for whom nothing is enough, connected lives heading in polar directions, a suspense-thriller to find a kidnapped girl – but they are flawed. For example, the kidnapped girl, a beautiful but footloose and fancy-free young woman, dances and flirts with the ‘hero’ of the piece, despite him being twice her age and a heavy drinking loner with suggestion of erectile dysfunction. Exactly…
Any Cop?: The Burning Ground is potential unrealised – stories that simmer but cool down before reaching boiling point.