This book of short stories by Audrey Kalman really resonated with me. The stories are different but deal with common issues, most related to marriage and family. Divorce was a frequent story element, and it was really interesting to see divorce explored from a number of different perspectives. Kalman looks at how family turmoil affects people throughout their lives.
There’s an everyday, “slice of life” feeling to these stories that really worked for me. Kalman leaves you wanting more in each story, and then occasionally revisits a character in the next story. There are some fantastical elements to the stories, but mostly these are people leading the same kinds of lives we do.
She has undergone a process that seems like the reverse of sexual awakening. Lah-di-dah and chips-fall-where-they-may in her early twenties. Then pregnant, glowing, blossoming with her two children in her late twenties. Competent and motherly in her thirties. Now she is forty-nine. The children are gone and she and Stone ought to be picking up where they left off before the babies. Instead they appear to have been diverted into some other couple’s life.
My favorite story was “When All Else Fails” which is actually an excerpt from one of Kalman’s novels, written from a different character’s perspective (I haven’t read the novel, What Remains Unsaid). In this story, a woman remembers the day her mother locked her father out of the house, and she worries about the effects of that on her own troubled marriage. Is she a deserter or simply taking care of herself?
For who I am. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.
Why is it so hard to know that about anyone? Because: everyone has subterranean passages filled with the crap of childhood. We paint the exterior with a glossy coat of what we think the world wants to see but it doesn’t change the inside.
Some of my favorite stories were:
- “Before There Was a Benjamin”: about a mother struggling to care for her autistic child and remembering the days before parenthood.
- “Everyone is Gone”: about an elderly woman hanging on to her independence and a clerk in a dollar store who build an unlikely friendship.
- “Untitled Erotica”: about a wife in a failing marriage who secretly begins a career writing erotic short stories.
- “Pearls”: a very short story in which a woman discovers that her greatest irritations are also her blessings.
- “Skyping with the Rabbi”: a story about a young man preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, which brought back memories of my own.
- “The Bureau of Lost Earrings”: a woman thinks about the sixty years of her life in relation to different earrings she’s received and lost.
Animals feature prominently in these stories, dogs and cats as companions to the characters. In one of my favorite stories, a troubled young man learns to love his deceased grandmother’s yappy little dog. In one disturbing story, a husband is reincarnated into the body of a puppy, and seeks out his former wife.
There are elements of stalking or controlling behavior in many of these stories, whether it’s about parents and children, husbands and wives, or simply strangers on the street. In these very short stories, Kalman gives us glimpses of complicated issues, never resolving them but always leaving questions in the mind of the reader.
There was so much in these stories that I could identify with, from the woman who tells a story of her life through her jewelry, to struggling to cope with the effects of divorce, to worrying whether you’re strong enough or a good enough spouse or parent. Readers who enjoyed these short stories might also enjoy the work of Rebecca Burns, such as Artefacts or Catching the Barramundi.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher Terrella Media. This book published August 8, 2018.