Hot Little Hands (Abigail Ulman, Hamish Hamilton)
There is intermittent gold to be found in this slightly uneven collection of short stories from debut author Abigail Ulman. Think Bret Easton Ellis meets Lena Dunham: Hot Little Hands is the type of book where characters are called Calorie, hook-ups happen to a backdrop of Kanye West and Cut Copy, and breakups inspire tattoos of texts from Kundera and Eliot. But that doesn’t mean you should underestimate it. It is, if nothing else, decidedly entertaining. All nine stories revolve around the loss, the filching or the forfeiting of innocence among a host of mostly unconnected characters aged in their teens and 20s. Only one character appears on repeat, regrettably, for she is the least likeable. It is hard to tell how much Ulman intends to be satirical when she has this character whisper ‘I love you’ in French to the croissant tattooed on her boyfriend’s chest. It could be argued that her remorselessly self-absorbed narrative serves to strengthen the shock value of some of the stories. But there are limitations to zeitgeisty witticisms and vacuous hipsterisms. Ulman writes well, but it can feel as though she’s trying too hard to sound fresh, or striking, or both. Some references to pop culture will date quickly and it is often hard to tell how old characters are meant to be or what decade they’re living in. Nonetheless, Hot Little Hands is simultaneously ridiculous and enjoyable.
Hilary Simmons is a former assistant editor at Books+Publishing and a freelance reviewer and journalist