Beyond Kidding is heavily grounded in the (ab)normal life of the protagonist, Rob, a nearly-thirty underachiever working in a sex shop owned by his childhood best friend ‘Bummer’. After a series of setbacks Rob decides that he needs a better job to springboard his life into adult status. Part-way through bungling the interview he bonds with the boss of the company by mentioning that he’s a single parent raising his seven-year-old son, Brodie. Later, to avoid an awkward situation, Rob claims that Brodie has been kidnapped, which then starts a chain of events that leads to Brodie being found. The only issue is that Brodie never existed — Rob made him up.
The majority of the story is told in a series of flashbacks as Rob desperately bears his soul to his friend Jules about everything that lead to him concocting a fake child. By this stage Rob is on the verge of madness because everyone — even his friends and family — remembers Brodie too. This in itself makes a good story, reminiscent of the best of The Twilight Zone, but layered on top of that the boy-that-shouldn’t-exist sits literally in the next room while Rob narrates the whole thing to Jules, which feels pleasingly claustrophobic. Clark manages to convey just how oblivious Rob is to his own role in his life’s twists and turns while keeping the narrative flowing and easy to follow. If I have one criticism here, it’s that the story feels like a novella that’s been padded into novel form. The climb to midway feels a little long given its flashback-nature. However, this is a minor point, and once I’d made it to around halfway Beyond Kidding really got moving and I found myself at the end rather suddenly.
At times Beyond Kidding is cringe-worthy bare-naked honesty, and other times verging on surreal — and yet somehow it comes together smoothly. Rob’s haphazard logic and leap-before-looking nature feel authentic to the point where the reader might well wonder exactly how much is taken from personal experiences! Clark’s style reminds me of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag if she’d decided to co-write it with the ghost of Douglas Adams.
Despite enjoying the story, I couldn’t help wishing that Rob had some redeeming qualities that would allow me to empathise with him a little more. Clark doesn’t shy away from warts-and-all descriptions of Rob’s (entirely juvenile) thoughts and actions; her writing is expressive, which beautifully paints just how terrible Rob is as a friend, colleague, partner, and general human being. Fortunately Rob’s support network seems to have enough moral fibre to go round — which is handy because he’s now a dad to a child that shouldn’t exist, and he’s going to need help figuring all this out.
Publisher: Fairlight Books
Author: Lynda Clark
Available: paperback, ebook