If you are looking for a contemporary, kooky, relatable read, look no further than Alice Kaltman’s Staggerwing. This collection of short stories is reminiscent of that ‘I can’t remember why I walked into the room’ feeling, something everyone can relate to. The characters are original and full of life, while also exhibiting off-the-wall characteristics. Staggerwing will have you barking out a laugh as its characters attempt to look graceful while walking across a tightrope.
The opening story, “Stay A While,” features a grandmother who “need[s] a goddamn purpose.” While cleaning out the basement one day, she decides to fix it up and rent it out as an apartment. One of her first guests leaves a scarf, and this is the catalyst that leads her to discover her ‘purpose.’ When she finds these “Forgottens,” as she comes to call them, she feels, sniffs, and rubs them all over herself to absorb the feelings of the owner when they last touched the item. She starts to take bigger risks to experience these feelings, and it’s one of these big risks that get her in trouble.
In “Boss Man” Amanda seems obsessed with beauty. Her husband, Dimitri, invites his boss and his boss’s lady friend over for dinner. Chet is a vulgar excuse of a man, but his date, Talulah, is one of the most beautiful women Amanda has ever seen. There is something about Talulah that seems familiar but Amanda can’t quite put her finger on it . . . . Then Talulah hints that Amanda may remember her better as a man named Thomas. Instantly the two are tittering in the kitchen about the surprise Chet’s going to get when he takes Talulah home later that night. Talulah leads Amanda to a breakthrough realization in her career and showcases that there’s more to life than what meets the eye.
Ellie comes to a similar realization in Kaltman’s story “Blossoms.” All Ellie wants is for someone to befriend her at camp, to recognize that it’s her birthday, and to go swimming. Instead everyone ignores this and she ends up at a watering hole full of naked men and a free-spirited camp counselor: “None of them had seen what Ellie had seen. Penises that would mark the day. Penises and Joy, with her teenage bosom and wild side. None of them.” She got what she wanted, but not in the way she expected.
Kaltman’s stories are full of characters in pursuit of that one out-of-reach, abstract ‘thing’ that will give their life more meaning. From the divorcee riding his bike through Vermont, the wife who carries her husband in her pocket, and the perfect mom trying to blend in with the Imperfects, Staggerwing is bound to appeal to readers of all kinds. The stories are laugh out loud funny, full of heart, and relatable in every way. Staggerwing’s eleven stories are equal parts witty, silly, and compassionate. They are sure to bring a smile to anyone who picks up the collection and gets lost inside its pages.