Interpretations of Real-Life Events: Stories

by Kevin Moffett

(Harper Perennial, $14.95, 240 pages)

Who is this author?

Kevin Moffett, a writer of short stories who lives in California, has been published in some of the best and most cutting-edge literary journals, such as McSweeney’s, Believer and Tin House, as well as in three editions of the “The Best American Short Stories” anthology. His efforts have won him a Nelson Algren Award, a Pushcart Prize and the 2010 National Magazine Award. His first collection, ”Permanent Visitors,” won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, judged by author George Saunders, who knows a thing or two about writing brilliant and surrealistic fiction.

To give yourself a good idea of Moffett’s unique brand of humor, visit and take a look at the “Store’ items, which include such useful devices as a naughty confessions holder, a canine curiosity extirpator and a secret meaning illuminator, none of which, as far as I can tell, actually exist….but should.

What is this book about?

Here is a collection of nine short stories that display a vivid imagination. The characters often are caught in terrible dilemmas: an immigrant theme park worker swallows a dental crown and must decide whether to let it pass through his system and retrieve unpleasantly or come up with the money for an expensive new one. A young, newly married couple find themselves stuck in the Arizona desert (and their relationship) as something – perhaps a snake – redolently decomposes in their stolen car’s exhaust system. An elderly woman in a nursing home receives a visit from a Civil War re-enactor….or does she? Many of the stories involve fathers and sons in twisted relationships where love and respect battle resentment and jealousy. All of them are quirky and memorable.

Why you’ll like it:

Reviewers agree that Moffett has mastered the neat trick of offering stories that are dryly humorous and very sad at the same time. As the above examples indicate, this author stretches his imagination – and yours – with ease. This is a book about transitions and the challenge of making decisions that perfectly captures the angst and absurdity of our times.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly:

“… Moffett’s work is melancholy and funny at the same time, with an uncanny knack for giving weighty topics (death especially, either imminent, remembered, or inevitable) a weightlessness that manages to make them graver rather than lighter. The best pieces, like the title story, about fathers and sons both biological and symbolic, touch on writing and memory and death. “One Dog Year” has John D. Rockefeller both too old to die and already dead and almost making it sky-ward… Language soars in unexpected directions: “On the brink of time, when he stands at last, he sings.” And strange happenings make perfect sense as people do what they have to do to metabolize grief and its bubbly sidekick, love. …This collection will leave readers grateful to have encountered characters who are as odd as they are, as sad as they may be, and as stupidly hopeful.”

“In the title piece of this fine new collection … a young writer who specializes in stories about fathers and sons is forced to reassess all of the assumptions he’s made about his past when his father begins writing stories that cover much the same territory. …”English Made Easy” deals with a young widow’s anguish as she attempts to deal with the aftermath of her husband’s unexpected death… Moffett’s stories brilliantly capture the uncertainty and emotional precariousness of those moments of becoming; for fans of his fiction and the short story form,” says Library Journal.

“A multi–award-winning short story leads this showcase of desert-dry tales of life’s rich pageant. For his second literary outing, Moffett continues in the desiccated vein of stories that find their protagonists at razor’s-edge crossroads in their sad, lonely lives. The widely available and praised title story has been published in both McSweeney’s and The Best American Short Stories 2010. It is the kind of story that short-story artists love, blending the art of writing and the disquiet of real life into meta-fiction that is clever without being coy,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“In nine deftly imagined stories, Moffett examines the boundaries between truth and memory, adulthood and parenthood, and aging and death. Moffett’s tales are by turns familiar and surprising, heartbreakingly honest and sincerely hilarious, a collection [that] readers are sure to return to time and again,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

Moffett’s collection is now on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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