All these kinds, but mostly the last, are on dark display in the interactions between the characters of Adam Ross’s collection of stories, Ladies and Gentlemen, his first book to be published since his debut novel, Mr. Peanut, landed last June to wildly mixed reviews. In keeping with his theme, he has chosen the perfect epigraph to introduce a work that addresses the issue in all its guises: “Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity” (George Eliot).
Opportunity there is. The first story, “Futures,” features forty-three-year-old David Applebow, a feckless job seeker who stumbles upon an ad that is enticing for its vagueness. “THE FUTURE IS NOW. Are you perceptive, analytical, a troubleshooter? Have excellent interpersonal skills you were never sure how to parlay into $$$?” The fact that neither the ad, nor the subsequent interviewers, ever get around to stating what the job actually entails only adds to its allure. Sharing with most of the other protagonists in the book a debilitating self-criticism (call it self-cruelty), from which he rallies with only the most excruciating effort, Applebow jumps at the job opportunity, permits himself to feel his fortunes rise, and ends up making an ass of himself. Corporate cruelty, specifically the cavalier type of the entertainment industry, is the culprit this time, though we don’t know it until the final annihilating few pages.