From Publishers Weekly
Kalotay's delicately graceful debut offers what many story collections do not: the chance to discover what becomes of its many characters. While some never resurface, like the heartbreaking Sergei, a Russian immigrant permanently scarred by a past mugging in "Sunshine Cleaners," or Cole Curtin, the down-and-out piano teacher hopelessly in love with his young students' mothers in "Serenade," others reappear throughout Kalotay's 12 interconnected tales. Geoff, a 13-year-old boy struggling with puberty, his parents' divorce and his mother's consequent depression in "All Life's Grandeur," is later found hungover in the backseat of a stranger's car, obsessing over love and bracing himself for his childhood best friend's marriage. Annie, a young and confident divorcée in "A Brand New You," attends the same wedding, now an eccentric, insightful old woman. Capturing her characters at different stages in their lives, Kalotay artfully crafts her book around their metamorphoses, both big and small. Her greatest achievements are "The Man from Allston Electric" and the title story, in which Rhea, the true star of the book, finds fleeting sanctuary with a repairman and divulges her deepest secret to a complete stranger. Contrary to the high-drama intensity suggested by the collection's title, each of Kalotay's stories is unwaveringly sparse and deceptively simple, focusing on the power of the ordinary rather than the energy of action.
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In a dozen straightforward, old-fashioned short stories, Kalotay follows a small coterie of suburban residents through key passages in their lives. First we see a 13-year-old boy weathering the stormy dissolution of his parents' marriage; now we see him as a 30-year-old best man, shepherding the roaring-drunk maid of honor to safety. The shifts in age and perspective add both depth and richness to the narratives. In "Serenade," 10-year-old Rhea is initially flummoxed by the grand pronouncements of her disheveled piano teacher, but his impassioned playing gives her a sudden appreciation for the mysteries of adulthood. In "Prom Season," French teacher Madame Lipsky has a special system for grading students that has little to do with learning French and much to do with following her directives, such as making sure every girl has a date for the prom and being nice to an emotionally fragile classmate. Such compassion is at the heart of Kalotay's polished stories, as are a subtle sense of humor and an appreciation for the complexities of human emotion. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved