Review by Alex Reece Abbott
Staggerwing, Kaltman’s shrewd debut collection explores human foibles and absurdities, thwarted ambitions and survival strategies, with sharp observation and dark humour.
Set in post-crash America, through eleven memorable, incisive tales, we meet a wide range of – sometimes obsessive – people at moments of transition in their curdling existence, running into detours and dead-ends and yet somehow, trying to reach out, still trying to get by.
The character-led collection opens with the powerful first person, Stay A While, and comes full circle, ending with another first person story – Stella, the struggling mid-career artist of Tossed, who finally meets her old role model.
There is something deliciously engaging and gossipy about these fresh, original intergenerational tales of imperfection, which are ridden with disappointed hopes and dreams.
From Stay A While’s Mrs McIntire, and her moving campaign to break her loneliness (which quickly runs out of control), through to self-confessed mid-life “cycling beast”, bitter, divorced Danny, in Freedom, and Amanda, the opinionated, suffering dinner party hostess in Boss Man, who gets a pleasant surprise in the kitchen. In Melody, Barney, the knowing new retirement complex security guard finds he is actually naïve and exposed, while Blossoms nails teenage girlhood and the nightmare trip to summer camp – we’ve all been there.
Two of the stories explore the same event or location through the eyes of a range of characters, some touchingly recurrent. In Snow Day, three diverse lives collide during a storm, while in Honeymoon Suite, we meet a jittery bride before her wedding, a couple reaching the end of their marriage, a grieving, jilted jock – and the maid, a single mother who cleans up after them. Bigfoot taps the weird world of female friendship, as Mae tries to be accepted by a “perfectly imperfect” group of playschool alpha-mamas. The title story, Staggerwing, is a poignant tale of self-deception and realisation.
While her characters are quirky, Kaltman gives them their humanity and a dash of dignity, never falling to cliché. Her love of language and the colloquial shine through. Her natural style and an eye for detail and era charge these entertaining journeys with an acerbic, visceral quality – they jump off the page and beg for adaptation.
The arresting cover by award-winning illustrator and artist, Alison Seiffer, should see Staggerwing flying off the shelves.
Kaltman’s collection can be purchased here.
Please note that TSS does not receive anything for this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ALICE KALTMAN/ @AliceKaltman Alice Kaltman is a writer and surfer who splits her time between Brooklyn and Montauk, New York. Staggerwing is her first collection of short stories. Her work appears in numerous journals including Joyland, Longform Fiction, Whiskey Paper, Storychord, The Stockholm Review, the Atticus Review, and Chicago Literati, and in print anthologies including The Pleasure You Suffer and On Montauk: A Literary Celebration. Her website is pretty.
An award-winning author, Alex writes across forms, genres and hemispheres. She has won the Northern Crime Competition and Arvon Prize, her short fiction often shortlists, including for the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Short Story Prize, and Bridport Prize. She is currently a finalist in the 2016 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year. Her literary historical novel, The Helpmeet is a 2016 Greenbean Irish Novel Fair winner.