A multi–award-winning short story leads this showcase of desert-dry tales of life’s rich pageant.
For his second literary outing, Moffett (Permanent Visitors, 2006) 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 metafiction that is clever without being coy. The story is narrated by Frederick Moxley, a writing instructor and unpaid writer of literary stories. His father takes to writing and submitting short stories to those ill-read literary journals, inspiring jealously in the son and quiet grief in the father. Literati-minded folks will linger on the younger Moxley’s hilarious mentor, an insane writing teacher named Harry Hodgett whose writing advice Moffett violates with abandon. “A story needs to sing like a wound,” Hodgett advises. “I mean, put your father and son in the same room together. Leave some weapons lying around.” Other stories are intriguing in their own way, even when they revisit similar themes. “Buzzers” and “English Made Easy” revolve around the internalized turmoil of grief and its aftermath, while “Lugo in Normal Time” eavesdrops on a sodden divorcee and part-time father who realizes in the midst of breaking things around him that he is, right now, in real trouble. Remembered moments of another sort populate the sadly romantic “First Marriage,” in which newlyweds Tad and Amy discover the harsh realities of togetherness as they make their way across the desert in a stolen car with an inexplicable odor of dead snake. The only anomaly in the bunch may be the final story, “One Dog Year,” which re-imagines John D. Rockefeller’s only plane ride, replacing historical realism with fictional gloss.
A well-honed but emotionally distant experiment in the manifestation of character.