Debut author Stalcup’s short story collection takes a look at what is gained and, more often, lost through the not-so-simple act of living.
Stalcup’s stories introduce us to a variety of characters, many of whom we get to know through their frequently unusual professions. We meet an exotic dancer who performs sexual favors for certain clients, a woman who wails professionally at funerals, and a man who helps people write more effective suicide notes. The estrangement these characters feel from their own lives is heightened by the bizarre situations that develop around them—things are rarely what they seem to be. This is not to say, however, that Stalcup relies on the strange or uncanny to explore human loneliness. The most engaging and emotionally powerful story in the collection, “All Those Stairs,” covers two—on the surface uneventful—days in the life of a subway station elevator operator. There are other themes also woven through the collection—how the objects that populate our lives can define us, for example, or the made and missed connections between strangers in big cities. The latter of these is explored most obviously and somewhat ham-handedly in “Brightest Corners,” which takes the form of “missed connections” posted on Craigslist. There are a few other stories that feel as though they miss their emotional marks as well; the pedantic tendencies of the narrator in “In the Heart of the Empire” become the pedantic tendencies of the story itself, which lags. On the whole, though, the world of each story and the lyrical quality of the writing itself are more compelling than the collection’s few shortcomings.
An engaging collection that takes on the love and loneliness lurking in the bright lights and shadowed corners of the everyday.