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Hot Little Hands: Fiction


Hot Little Hands: Fiction

Claire, living far from her native London and studying film in San Francisco, is trying but not quite succeeding in growing up. When she finds herself pregnant with her ex-boyfriend, Luke, the reality of adulthood is suddenly becoming unavoidable. Her choice to terminate the pregnancy is swiftly dealt with, and she doesn’t miss a beat in her hipster life.

From band performances to flirtations, from too much coffee to too much booze, from intellectual confidence to a comfortable sexuality, Claire is a tone-setting and recurring character in Abigail Ulman’s collection of nine short stories, HOT LITTLE HANDS. All are deftly written with a fresh and realistic style, and each female protagonist is wonderfully complicated and charming in her own way.

Besides telling everyone she knows about her upcoming abortion (“This abortion is the most practical and organized thing in my life. It’s the only thing I’m certain I want,” she says to a near stranger in “The Withdrawal Method”), 27-year-old Claire dates a beautiful 19-year-old named Sy in “The Pretty One,” and is deported back to England after a Kafka-esque experience with the TSA and Homeland Security in “Your Charm Won’t Help You Here.”

"Ulman’s wit is sharp, and her observations are even sharper as she gives readers portraits of young women on the cusp of self-discovery or radical change."

While Claire’s stories are written with a lightness and humor that often belie the serious issues she’s facing, other stories in HOT LITTLE HANDS are darker and more menacing. Young Russian gymnasts are sold into slavery in “Warm-Ups,” and a ninth-grader named Ramona struggles to make sense of an incident with her stepfather in “Same Old Same As.” In “Head to Toe,” teenagers Elise and Jenni become bored of their usual diet of drugs and sex. Instead, they decide to stay home on a Saturday night and then attend the horse camp they loved as younger girls.

In “Plus One,” readers meet Amelia, a popular blogger contracted to write a book of her essays and ideas. But with her writing stalled, she decides to become pregnant to avoid work. She trades in one adult responsibility for another, and though it could’ve gone horribly wrong, Ulman is kind and keeps her character safe. Still, she never shies away from the harsh and troubling emotional realities she faces. Like Claire, Amelia is on the cusp of real maturity and is capable of great insight, but is hampered by fear and an adolescent insistence on instant gratification. The changes with which Ulman challenges her protagonists are engaging and interesting to read.

Ulman’s wit is sharp, and her observations are even sharper as she gives readers portraits of young women on the cusp of self-discovery or radical change. There is a narrative looseness in her style, but the emotional pull of the characters is powerful. It is this bi-polarity, the contemporary language mixed with the pop-culture references contrasted by the very real and urgent action of the stories, that is so entertaining and provocative. Ulman’s own confidence in writing is captivating, and her characters are colorful. That is not to say there are no slow moments because there are, as well as a wordiness and tendency toward repetition. Nevertheless, HOT LITTLE HANDS is overwhelmingly successful and intense.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 10, 2016

Hot Little Hands: Fiction
by Abigail Ulman

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
  • ISBN-10: 081298918X
  • ISBN-13: 9780812989182