August 2006

Angela Stubbs

fiction

Calamity and Other Stories by Daphne Kalotay

A short-story is a form that is demanding in its quest for a good story, asking only for precision and attention from its reader for a short number of pages. Within those short pages we hopefully stumble upon a great story that keeps us contemplating the contents within. Daphne Kalotay is the kind of author who does all of these, but with flair and alacrity.

Kalotay’s collection, Calamity and Other Stories, chronicles the everyday situations we find ourselves in and the relationships we cultivate over a lifetime. Perhaps what is most remarkable about this debut collection is that each story is quite straightforward in its style while characters and storylines are genuinely crafted, giving attention to detail and familiar scenarios that most anyone could identify with. There is a magnetic, likeable quality to her characters and often they reappear in other stories having grown up or grown old. These 12 stories incorporate marriage, both beginning and ending, unattainable love, puberty, divorce, depression and violence.

The narrative is told from different perspectives based on age and wisdom. There are instances where main characters are linked to other stories in the collection, but Kalotay allows the reader to watch as they struggle to figure out the meaning in each of their situations, all while keeping us interested in the outcome. “All of Life’s Grandeur” deals with the emotions that present themselves when parents divorce and begin dating again. The main character, Geoff, a 13-year old boy also finds himself in the midst of puberty with a lower voice and a need to masturbate on a regular basis. He is also forced to deal with his parents divorce and mother’s subsequent depression all while taking in the public displays of affection between his father and new girlfriend. In “Rehearsal Dinner” Geoff is now an adult that is grappling with the break-up of his latest relationship. On the way to his best-friend’s wedding as the best-man, he contemplates the state of his romantic life and laments being alone at this moment and wonders what his future will bring.  

The first story of the collection entitled, “Serenade” addresses acceptance and inhibitions as we watch Cole Curtin, a kooky piano teacher, make his way into the live of Malena, one of his young students. It’s Malena’s mother that offers up a surprise when she begins kissing her friend Helen at their backyard party. Cole Curtain, with all of his oddities remains second in interest to this plot twist. Kalotay doesn’t dwell on the quirkiness of her main character here, but rather the things we do when we think no one is watching. 

Kalotay also shows her love for all things French with the introduction of Madame Lipsky, in “Prom Season.” A French teacher enforces the “every girl must have a date for Prom” rule in her class, where her students are graded on this task rather than French vocabulary tests or verb conjugation. This story reveals just how far some teenagers will go to get the date they’d rather have. Getting hurt and feeling inadequate are staples in most high school experiences, and Madame Lipsky’s classroom is no exception.

One of the best stories of these 12 is “Sunshine Cleaners” where we find Sergei, a Russian immigrant who is plagued with the memory of his mugging from some time ago. While the story appears to center around the mundane task of those who inhabit the local local Laundromat, Kalotay reminds the reader that this story is about human kindness and how it turns up in the face of darkness.

“A couple coming home from a disco found me,” he explained. “Saved my life probably. I was in the hospital six months.”

Characters in this collection make appearances in other stories as older, more mature people who’ve evolved into a different and often better place in their life than when we last saw them. The title story, “Calamity” deals with a less than adequate plane landing, in which the main character Rhea discusses her regrets of having had an abortion with an older woman on the plane. The character of Rhea unleashes her big secret to this perfect stranger as she does in “The Man from Allston Electric.” Different secrets, same character, same idea, which all indicate that our main character in both of these stories is good at divulging her entire life history to perfect strangers. These admissions may have had a stronger affect if they had been used once as opposed to twice. 

This book examines our ability to deal with intimacy, relationships, friendships and family. While Kalotay’s style is simple and sparse, the stories remain (in many cases) complex and cluttered with life’s chaos. The stories here, while believable and well-written, lack a certain amount of darkness and intrigue. A collection like this has the ability to be spectacular, if only Kalotay would have taken a few more risks. These stories are subtle in their transformations; however Calamity and other Stories requires more intrigue and quirk to keep its reader turning the page.

Calamity and Other Stories by Daphne Kalotay
Anchor Books
ISBN: 1400078482
193 Pages