Collision Theory is a novel about a screenwriter that could have been written as a film script. Journalist Todd Zuniga’s debut, penned under the name Adrian Todd Zuniga, would work well on the screen, but unfortunately works less so on the page. Short and succinct in its two hundred pages, it doesn’t need to be any longer for its content.

Opening with an unknown woman jumping from a rooftop, we are introduced to Thomas, who is dealing with the grief of witnessing it, as well as missing his unseen girlfriend, Sarah, and being estranged from his sick mother. Although putting on a confident front, it is clear from his failing work ethic that he is struggling to cope. Sarah is many people, at one point a memory, a ghost, and a bewildering stranger in too many twists throughout the short novel. We are a third into the book when one of the many Sarahs reveals the purpose of the plot, that Thomas keeps his distance from his mother to prevent her from carrying out voluntary euthanasia. But now a natural death is drawing close, thus he makes the cross state journey home, and at the half way mark the story begins. Parental relationships and the role childhood memories play in shaping us as adults are now the themes, and in her reminiscent state, it becomes his mother’s story. She too has had her fair share of pain, which she, like her son, has also spent a lifetime denying, and what unravels shows that no good comes of that.

Reading the poetic inscription on the inside cover suggests that Zuniga is drawing on personal experience. “To my mother/who loved when I was at home reading/because it meant I was near her/which meant I was safe” is perhaps the most moving part of the book – this work is a labour of love for its author, and life’s pain and grief should be shared.

Towards the end of the novel, and after another Sarah-related twist, we learn Thomas’s collision theory in a fleeting mention of meet-ups and molecules, and then that’s it. Collision Theory: the novel is a muddled exploration of grief; though it means well, it sadly never truly hits the mark.

Collision Theory is already out, published by Rare Bird Books.