The characters in Kispert’s debut collection grapple with chaotic lives, troubled memories, and shifting identities.
The narrator of the title story pays a man to act out the role of a fictional friend from the tales he's told his boyfriend about his life before they met. This sets in motion a cascading series of events that prompts a meditation on the paradoxical nature of “true stories,” which in turn casts a long shadow over the rest of the book. The next story is “Puncture,” whose second sentence feels like a reaction to "I Know You Know": “Clark is color blind, or so he’s telling me.” Kispert wrestles with grand themes, but he’s equally adept at memorable miniatures. In “Signs,” he makes effective use of brevity, creating power both in what’s told and what’s left out. The collection’s first section, called "I Know," abounds with scenes of deception, so when the second section, "You Know," opens with a story narrated by an actor, it seems like the logical next step. The final story, “Mooring,” plays out with echoes of the opener, not unlike a strange remix. It’s all in keeping with Kispert's attention to the border between fiction and reality. While his depictions of contemporary life are wholly immersive, he also displays a talent for the speculative. Kyle, the protagonist of “How to Live Your Best Life,” inhabits a marginal existence with his partner, Jerry, and their daughter, Chloe. In between acts of petty theft, he ponders whether they should appear on a game show that’s a blend of The Newlywed Game and Family Feud, albeit with potentially lethal consequences. And in “Rorschach,” live crucifixions carried out on death-row inmates garbed as Jesus have become a hot ticket around the country.
Kispert blends sharp characterization with intriguing premises throughout this memorable collection.