Short stories explore the lives and relationships of residents of a small Minnesota town.
In 10 linked stories, seemingly simple daily interactions reach their tipping points for a wide array of characters. Stories about Ana the bartender bookend the collection, opening with her efforts to connect with patrons of her saloon despite their inconsistent presence (“Last Call”) and ending with her injured and alone in her apartment, recalling the slow loss of her brother to depression after his return from World War II and how she came to spend over 60 years working at her family’s bar (“Ana’s End”). Quiet struggles and solitude continue as themes for other characters, such as Luther, a retired teacher who, despite his budding relationship with a town librarian, is unable to move on from the long-ago death of his first love (“A Yin-Yang Year”); Shirley, the bookshop owner who lashes out at a customer in a moment of grief for her husband (“The Humming Bee”); and Eleanor, who tries to gracefully endure her sister’s funeral as mourners recall how Greta became known as “The Pee Lady” because of her public incontinence (“The Siebenbrunner Nose”). With her direct prose, author Kalz, in her first book for adults, has created a muted kaleidoscope of rural life, though the connections between stories are at times thin or slow to develop. The dialogue is sometimes hindered by wording that feels overly caricatured (“ 'Hot dog,' she said, 'it’s too cold even for the snowmen!' ”), which makes moments of reflection stand out even more: “By the time Luther came home from Marjorie’s, the rooms turned cold and close. He found himself breathing in shallow, quiet breaths, as though there wasn’t enough air left in the apartment by sundown, as though taking a deep breath might suck the walls in even farther.” Still, Kalz captures the tenacity, devotion to labor, and will to endure associated with the rural Midwest.
Simple and unpretentious in its portrayal of small-town life.