This week, we all need a story with heart and teeth, a story that celebrates the glittering intelligence of women and the power of female friendship and dismantles the patriarchy while also being laugh-out-loud funny, a story with a happy ending. That story is Alice Kaltman’s “Boss Man” in the latest issue of Storychord, out earlier this week. In “Boss Man,” Kaltman’s voice-driven prose unfurls a tale of a horribly awkward dinner party with an insufferable man of the type we all, unfortunately, know well:
My husband’s new boss, Chet, is coming with his ‘lady friend.’ I’ve never met Chet, but from the way Dimitri describes him, he sounds like a misogynistic, entitled fuckhead. A gazillionaire who never went to college, likes to surround himself with brilliant, young, exploitable employees he treats the way a cat treats a litter box.
Our protagonist, Amanda, is a middle-aged woman whose youngest child recently left for college, and Amanda is having a bit of a crisis—but not because of her newly empty nest. Amanda is journalist specializing in longform, off-the-beaten-path profiles, and she didn’t do her homework on her last one. The subject, ostensibly an athletic, motocrossing, British virologist named Dr. Francis Wyvern, turned out to be a fraud named Fred who lives in Sacramento as a pharmacist. The ensuing controversy and humiliation has Amanda sleeping on the couch all day in an Ambien-infused haze and referring to her writing career as her “former writing career.” Her husband Dimitri’s income is the only one they presently have, so when his new boss wants to come over for dinner, Amanda and Dimitri are forced to put on a smile and oblige. Amanda is dreading it, both having to deal with the arrogant, hands-y Chet and also his “lady friend,” who she can only imagine must be on a similar bar of despicable as Chet. Amanda is surprised when she turns out to be nothing of the sort:
I take Talulah’s hand, which is cool and even softer than it looks. Her grip is firm, which I like in another woman. I can’t stand it when I shake a woman’s hand and she goes all fishy on me. “Nice to meet you, Talulah,” I say and mean it. She exudes congeniality, and the more she smiles that sparkling smile at me, the more she reminds me of someone. But I can’t place who it is. I know it’s someone I like, or liked…
As the night proceeds, Chet regales them with obliviously racist and sexist stories and at one point demands a guitar to perform a talentless song of which he is unduly proud, all the while ogling Talulah, who skillfully keeps him at arm’s reach, and semi-constantly interrupting. Chet’s misogynist, mansplaining entitlement does risk coming across as caricature, if only we didn’t know that there are in fact many, many Chets out there roaming the world with their patriarchal specialness. But caricature or not, Kaltman’s depiction of Chet is hilarious at the same time as it is infuriating, and it feels good to laugh at such terrorizing bombast, and to see Amanda and Talulah laugh at it. The story is filled with such conversational gems as this:
“I have a dog,” says Chet, as if he’s announced winning the Prix de Rome.
“How wonderful!” I cry, as if Chet has won the Prix de Rome. “What kind of dog?”
“Dunno,” Chet shrugs. “Labradoodle? Cockapoodle? Cockador?”
Talulah frowns. “How can you not know what kind of dog you have?”
Chet shrugs again. He’s good at shrugging. “I just got it, like, last summer.”
Note: It is now, once again, summer.
Read the full story over at Storychord and have yourself a little catharsis through this witty, empowering, and ultimately happy story. If you want more from Kaltman, “Boss Man” appears in her new story collection Staggerwing, published last month from Tortoise Books, and she also has two novels, Wavehouse and Saving Grace.