Nicole Melanson ~
Audrey Kalman’s Tiny Shoes Dancing and Other Stories is the first short story collection I’ve read in ages. While I’m a big fan of, say, Raymond Carver and Deborah Levy, I find short stories in general leave me a bit cold, for lack of a better word. I think there’s so much emphasis on mastering “the form” and nailing a condensed narrative structure that many writers skimp on emotional energy and character development.
Kalman’s stories are a refreshing change in this regard. She has a gift for giving her characters real complexity and depth without resorting to reams of backstory. The people Kalman has created seem not only authentic but unique—the kind of individuals you could imagine moving in next door or sitting across from you on the train. They are layered, nuanced, and provocative.
I started reading these stories a couple weeks ago and still feel a strong attachment to some of the characters. “Everyone is Gone”, in particular, got under my skin. Exploring the unlikely bond between a shopkeeper and one of his customers, with an adult daughter thrown in to confuse things, this story challenged me to find the fine lines between mutual benefit and co-dependence, nurturing and enabling, support and exploitation. I am still undecided how the relationship might have evolved differently, and whether or not it should have.
This psychological exploration is where Kalman’s work triumphs and why I’d class her work as literary fiction. Her writing is elegant and her imagery rich. If I had any criticism of these stories, it would be that sometimes the endings felt rushed, tacked on because the form necessitated wrapping up, rather than because the narrative seemed finished. This was especially true for me in the eponymous story, where the conclusion didn’t feel entirely earned.
Tiny Shoes Dancing and Other Stories has left me curious about the rest of Kalman’s work. I haven’t read either of her novels yet but I can see how her sensitivity and insight, coupled with an interesting take on everyday situations, would make for really compelling long-form fiction. Kalman is clearly a talented writer with an absorbing outlook on the world.
To purchase Tiny Shoes Dancing and Other Stories, follow the links here.