August 2003

Jessa Crispin

fiction

Kissing You by Daniel Hayes

In Daniel Hayes’s debut collection of short stories, Kissing You, love is equated with anxiety. The characters are so afraid of rejection, so afraid of vulnerability that they construct complex walls. There is little true intimacy in this collection. Love is not redemptive. Instead, meeting someone you’re attracted to leads to nausea and pain, and if you manage to find yourself in a relationship, it only gets worse.

Kissing You has several great stories, but overall the collection is uneven. It starts out with the title story, a lovely short about a man who invents pet iguanas just so that he has something to say to the object of his crush. It’s followed up by “What I Wanted Most of All,” a story with promise that eventually leads nowhere. The quality swings up and down throughout the book, ending with "Anything But a Gentleman," a story so good it makes you forget any flaws the collection might have had.

One of the best stories in the collection is “Sweet Nothings.” An unnamed couple are on their first date when another woman catches the man’s eye. As he passes by her, he leans and whispers a compliment in her ear. He’s caught by his date and constructs a lie that slowly unravels. The story ends at the perfect moment, with the man sure he has thought of the perfect thing to say to his date to smooth things over. Instead, the reader knows that at the next moment he will cause irreparable damage to the evening. The actions of the story take place over only ten minutes or so, but it is so perfectly constructed it speaks volumes about gender differences. The man’s inability to understand that what he is about to say to his date is the absolute worst option is why there are books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

In order to bridge the gap between the sexes, other characters go to extremes. In “Twenty-Six Hours, Twenty-Five Minutes,” the narrator instructs his friend Bob on the art of stalking. “Stalking has the advantage of allowing you to find out a lot, Bob, without opening things up. Otherwise, it’s like handing over a black check: you tell a woman of your interest, you lay it on out there like you were nodding your head at your own evisceration.” When the narrator’s girlfriend responds badly to the news that he stalked her before he introduced himself, he seems genuinely surprised.

With the weaker of the stories, Hayes seems to have trouble with conclusions. Some of the stories don’t read like they were finished, they just suddenly stop. The place he stopped writing sometimes makes no sense at all, leaving the reader wonder what happened to the rest of the story. Other stories ramble on in desperate need of a conclusion.

For a debut collection, Daniel Hayes shows tremendous talent and the good stories eclipse the mediocre. The price of the book is worth it for “Sweet Nothings” and “Motormouth”—a story in which a woman discovers her fiancee’s obsession with a former high school classmate who was raped and murdered. It’s just a shame all of the stories could not have been as strong as those two.

Kissing You by Daniel Hayes
Graywolf Press
ISBN: 1555973795
184 Pages