Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events by Kevin Moffett

Oh, boy. This one's going to be very, very difficult to review. Let's start with the technical details, shall we?

Title: Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events by Kevin Moffett
Copyright: 2011
Published By: HarperPerennial - Short Stories
Length: 229 pages
Reason for Reading: It sounded like a fun collection

But, here is where we divert from the recent pattern. I'm not quite sure how to briefly summarize this book. It's a collection of short stories that are remarkable for the way the author throws a dozen balls in the air and keeps them from hitting the floor, if that makes sense. Kevin Moffett is not a name I've heard before; therefore, I can't just assume you're familiar with his peculiar voice so I've dashed off to his website to steal borrow a paragraph about his book:

A dazzling new story collection from brilliant, young, award-winning writer Kevin Moffett, Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events illuminates the intimate experiences of characters caught between aspiration and achievement, uncertainty and illumination, inertia and discovery, the past and the future. Channeling unexpected, eclectic voices in a collection perfectly suited to readers of Daniyal Mueenuddin, Alice Sebold, and Dave Eggers, Moffett delivers a nuanced, powerful, humorous, and moving meditation on the trials of transitions and liminal living in today's modern world.

Wow, actually, I'm not even sure what that meant. I haven't read any of the authors mentioned, although I have some Dave Eggers on my shelves. All I can tell you is that Kevin Moffett has a singular style in the vein of, "Oh, my gosh, I would never have thought to put those words together but they work." His stories are stylish. When describing a person who is in a deep, dark place, he still manages to do so with color and humor. When you finish a story, there are so many strands running around in your head, tying themselves into weird knots, that you feel obligated to give the story some room to roll around for a while, till the knots are lined up in a row.

He bought a six-pack of beer and walked back to the trailer as the sun set. The horizon was violently radiant and the wind sung with borrowed nostalgia. It was growing colder. He passed the immense copper pit, a fenced-off canyon of wrecked earth at least a half-mile across, staircased and very still. Tad peered through the fence. The damage looked cataclysmic up close, but seen from space it was nothing. Seen from space it didn't amount to a pinprick. This struck him as a nice, comprehensive thing to realize. He wanted to realize more things like it, but it was getting too cold to concentrate. On the road again, he decided that if anybody asked what he was doing, he'd say, very casually, "Just passing through." But no one did.

~from "First Marriage", p. 94 of Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events

There are 9 stories in Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, including the title story. I enjoyed them all, but I think "Buzzers" is my favorite because it presents a realistic dilemma that I can relate to in some abstract way. I'm going to spoil this one completely, so I'll post a spoiler alert.

*WARNING* Spoiler Alert! In order to share a story, I'm going to potentially ruin it, although I won't tell you the important part (what the protagonist decides). Please skip this part if you're planning to read Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, soon!

Andrew has left the hospital, where his father has been in sharp decline from an unnamed condition. He's on a plane, preparing to travel to Italy to study architecture with a group of other students. When Andrew mentioned that perhaps he should cancel his trip, his father replied, "Over my dead body." And, that statement has just become literal, as Andrew is sitting on the plane at the gate and his mother has just texted him. His father is dead and Andrew is paralyzed. Should he do what's right and exit the plane to be with his mother and sister? Or, should he pretend he's already left the gate, that he didn't receive the text in time?

Andrew is obviously grief-stricken to the point that he can't move. The idea of getting up and asking to wiggle past the woman in the aisle seat, remove his luggage and leave the plane seems like a monstrous effort. The woman in the aisle seat is married to the man in the window seat and their conversation intrudes on his decision. Will he fight overwhelming inertia and get off the plane? Or, will he just sit still and let the decision be made for him?

Having been through a lot of loss, I could easily imagine myself in Andrew's position. What a dilemma, having to choose between returning (the right thing) and being surrounded by the grief of others versus traveling (a learning experience; an escape). Would Andrew's father really have wanted him to leave his mother and sister at such a crucial time?

*End spoiler warning*

The bottom line: 5/5 - Totally mind-blowing writing. I would reread this book right now, if I didn't feel obligated to move on. I love the way this author gracefully tosses puzzle pieces at your head and makes you put out the effort to form the complete picture. If you're not normally a short-story aficionado, it's possible that you'll find these stories a little frustrating. But, they're worth reading, rereading and talking about, in my humble opinion. If you're a writer, you'll want to dissect them, highlight and underscore and take notes. Reading Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events is an experience you'll want to revisit.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. This does sound like a really interesting collection, and the story that you excerpted has such a fluidity of language and idea that I have the feeling that this book and I would get along just fine. Thanks for the awesome review on this one. I need to see if I can find it because while I don't read a ton of short story collections, this one sounds really perfect for me!

    1. Oh, Zibilee, I like the way you put that: "fluidity of language." It's both the language and the depth of the stories that makes them the kind you want to reread, but his unique twist of phrase is stunning. I think you'll enjoy this collection. I hope you can find a copy soon. If you do, please come back and tell me when you read it! Maybe we can chat about it. I'll be up for a reread, any time!!!

  2. Kevin Moffett is not a name I've heard before either. But after reading this review, I think it's a name I need to get to know! Thanks, Nancy!

    1. Apparently, this is Moffett's second short-story collection; no novels to his name, from what I can tell. That tends to keep a writer more obscure, unfortunately. Novels make names. I do hope you'll read this book, Debi!! He deserves to be known, in my humble opinion.

  3. LOVE that excerpt you posted. Such vivid writing!

    1. Cath,

      His writing is consistent, so the rest of the book is equally vivid. It's a terrific read!


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