Nicholas Montemarano’s debut collection of short stories, If the Sky Falls, startles with its highly stylistic prose, intense themes, and realistic narratives. The stories, some of them linked, as in “Shift” and “The Usual Human Disabilities” — both featuring a pill-popping, very human caregiver and the two people affected by varying degrees of cerebral palsy for whom he “wipes [their] ass[es] and cook[s] [their] breakfast[s]” for eight dollars an hour — posess the direct dialogue of Raymond Carver, but with much more complex narratives. Montemarano is a master at capturing human fears, both chronic and accute, as well as human response and reaction to these fears. These characters are memorable and original, sometimes unsettling and even disturbing — yet as real as a neighbor.
His stories are a paradox in that they are at once gritty and beautiful. Some of the stories in this remarkable debut collection contain shocking material, usually in the form of violence but also in the kind of psychology that is fueled by familial spite and the feeling of underappreciation. However, the violence, as in the story “The November 15,” chronicling the torture of randomly collected men who are turned into martyrs by their community in a tale reminiscent of the aftermath of September 11th, never seems used for shock value.
Montemarano’s prose is tight but never too sparse. Every word seems chosen carefully and has a purpose. Every story seems the perfect length — the reader never wishes one were longer because each ending both tremendously satisfies and stuns.
His darkly accessible stories, often peopled by nameless chracters, brilliantly depict the inner workings of their quiet but urgent desperation. The simple hopes and sufferings of outwardly uncomplicated people who often have highly neurotic imaginations are brought to life through Montemarano’s authentic, effortless prose. Through his tightly-written, captivating narratives the reader is able to sense the immediate real danger and psychological terror, as well as a never-ending supply of anxiety that Montemarano’s characters experience. At the close of each story the reader is left reeling in quiet astonishment.
Nicholas Montemarano writes with dead-on precision, clarity, elegance, and probing insight. He is a highly original new talent who should become a familiar name on the literary landscape in years to come.