Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
This collection of short stories by author Audrey Kalman left me feeling both introspective and unfulfilled.
Unfulfilled because the stories end on what appears to be an unfinished conclusion that leaves you hanging, thinking you know what happened to the character going forward, or how the situation ends, but not completely sure.
Introspective because Kalman’s stories are about ordinary people living ordinary lives, participating in ordinary events, yet there are multiple layers of feelings and thoughts, as well as craftily written self-examinations by the characters themselves that make you realize there is more to them and their lives, relationships, and situations than there first appears to be.
At first I thought those unfinished endings were a flaw in the first couple of stories I read, but then I realized it was done on purpose. And after first being surprised by some of these inconclusive endings, and then, admittedly, a bit annoyed, I actually found myself enjoying the ploy Kalman used because it made me think about what I had just read and formulate my own conclusions, creating a greater effect on me as a reader.
What Kalman does is get you thinking and paying attention to what she writes, making the effect of each story much greater than the length or even the breadth of the story itself. For me, I often found the shorter the story, the more it made me think and wonder and imagine. That, to me, is a hallmark of great writing and storytelling.
The very first story in this collection, “Tiny Shoes Dancing” (also the title of the collection) sets the stage for what is to come in the stories that follow. You meet the mother of a young woman, Adeline, who has pursued ballet since she was just three or four years old, on the night she is attending a ballet performance in which her daughter is one of the lead dancers. Kalman takes you inside the mother’s head, and her lifetime of memories with her daughter, as she is waiting for the performance to start, and you learn all about Adeline’s life, her ballet teacher, their mother-daughter relationship, and a recently evolving issue that could have dire consequences for both of them.
In writing the overview of this particular story, I couldn’t remember the mother’s name, and was about to go back to the book to look it up, but thought it was a perfect analogy for this collection. The stories are told by one person, but because they are told from their thoughts and interactions with other characters in the story, you get such a multi-faceted look at their lives and relationships and key events, that the story becomes more than just about the person whose point of view from which it is being told.
I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes a bit of complexity and depth in stories and doesn’t mind being teased a bit by what you think might be the outcome, because after reading this collection, it is the ambiguity of the outcomes that makes these stories much more satisfying in the end, since it is the reader who truly determines what they think happens.
However, I should also caution that if you’re a reader who likes to analyze what you’re reading, you will spend much more time thinking about some of these stories and characters than you did reading them.