Dafina is a married woman with two stepchildren, while Mr. Dalton, her lover, is a married father of three. Alec and Dafina meet once a month at a nice hotel in Raleigh. She is considering moving from Cary to New York City, where her career as a writer would stand better chances of taking off, but she doesn’t because Alec is in North Carolina.
Dafina drives for a living. Her husband is from India and she is from Macedonia. When she moved to the United States, she did so under the impression that he was in good financial standing. Soon enough, however, their poor financial health is revealed, and this forces Dafina to become a chauffeur. “I meet eight to nine new men every week,” she explains in one of the short chapters bearing her name and offering her point of view—men she shuttles to and from the airport, men who offer various comments on her apparently attractive physical appearance, tasteful dress, and accessorizing. “Most of them were flirting with me. Some of them even try to touch me,” she admits. Some of these passages, such as the one in which her husband Hemant expects her to provide him with “sexual pleasure” despite her feeling ill, or the chapter in which Dafina reveals previous relationships with “American men” and the various forms of abuse she sustained—financial, emotional, verbal—highlight the all-too-common and daily plights of women.
Other characters in the novella include Lidia, Dafina’s best friend, and Sam Collins and Kazuo Murakami, Dafina’s “beautiful gay friends.” In one of his point-of-view chapters, Sam reveals Dafina is pregnant. A few chapters later, it is Lidia, who reveals Dafina’s miscarriage. These secondary characters never grow fully into their humanity and the reader pines to know more of them, as they remain hinges upon which Dafina’s story depends and through which it is revealed.
GOOD MORNING, MR. DALTON exhibits some formal ambition, with shifting points-of-view and a circularity to the tale, which betrays the author’s intention for an emotional release just as the story closes. Many moments described in the book could make their very own short story, but the novella’s most difficult element to contend with is a shifting tone—which could easily be smoothed over with a little editorial oversight—and here GOOD MORNING, MR. DALTON unfortunately and frequently hits the wrong note. Readers might also bemoan the lack of a true narrative arc, aside from the main character’s emotional undertakings. Shapkaliska possesses all the material necessary for the makings of a good book, but the latter requires a more refined polish of the language—and more in-depth character development.
GOOD MORNING, MR. DALTON is a valiant attempt at capturing the hinge point in a woman’s life and while Dafina’s circumstances are certainly worthy of being written about, readers may pine for more stability and poise in author’s Ana Shapkaliska’s tone.
~Emily Martin for IndieReader