A batch of lackluster coming-of-age stories mingle with sharply observed tales of contemporary angst in Kulpa’s first collection.
The title story, the book’s strongest, deals with two brothers who drink too much. It’s Christmas Eve, and Scotty, who has been sober for ten months, is home with his wife Stephanie and their two daughters. His brother Bill, who thrives on drama, calls and insists that Scotty meet him at a pizza place. Bill has discovered his ex-wife in bed with a much younger man and he has retaliated by taking their 18-month-old son. Scotty drives with him to the house of a friend who can take care of the baby, then to their hometown. There the brothers take a trip down memory lane and end up in a bar where customers knew their father, who jumped out of a window on Christmas Eve ten years before. Another intriguing story, “Maintaining,” offers a look at the dramas inside a drug and alcohol treatment clinic, told from the perspective of a receptionist. A half-dozen stories tread more familiar ground—losing love, finding love—without any particular distinction. “Have You Seen Her” is an overly lengthy search for a lost love whose photo the protagonist thinks he has spotted in a Lower East Side deli; “Someone You Don’t Remember” is a too-brief sketch about a former lover; “Elaine, I Love You,” finds a woman remembering her crush on a Polish sailor who docked in Newport when she was 13. “Cristina in Another Country” is a more daring and more effective tale of a lost love, told in fragments by a college student whose road trip is detoured to Mexico. The last story, “The Salvation Café,” is a mere paragraph long, and not a very interesting paragraph at that.
An uneven collection that would have benefited from more careful culling.