From novelist Quinn (High Strung, 2003), an oddly flat first collection that deals mostly with overly familiar domestic issues.
In “Dough,” a young woman with a “peaceful father” and a mother who went overnight from showgirl to paralegal, spends time with her grandmother, who has “rosebud nostrils” and is suffering from dementia. Her mother comes by one evening and catches the girl in flagrante with her boyfriend, a bread maker. Yet the story is too quiet to be memorable. A woman’s experience of rape is associated in her mind with CNN’s reports of American astronauts, ideas that merge in a conclusion that doesn’t work (“Back on Earth”). In “Endurance Tests,” a divorced mother connects her young son’s episodes of playing dead after his dog dies with the endurance tests she and a girlfriend tried with each other when they young, concluding that nothing was enough to prepare them for adult life. The inconclusive “Shed This Life” follows a woman whose parents died when she was in high school as she now leaves a boyfriend she met in the dentist’s office (where she works) after she let him know she’s pregnant. Dalton’s language is too pat (“Ted is looking at me like a man not quite recovered from Novocain, mouth breathing and he doesn’t even know it”), her character’s motivations unclear. “How to Clean Your Apartment” gives us a young woman trying to break up with a boyfriend while drinking whiskey and preparing to throw out clothes, gifts, junk. It’s saved from dullness by witty index subheads (“Screening calls: brief arguments for, 7.61”; “Therapy, cheaper alternatives to, 9:07”) but closes with the same old ending. The overlong title story gives an account of the narrator’s breakup with her boyfriend, told in tandem with the saga of her parents’ separation, her mother’s depression and her grandmother’s controlling temperament. Dalton gives each equal weight, robbing her tale of drama and emotion.
Sadly, stories with a potential too insufficiently realized to deliver sustenance.