Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events
Harper Perennial, 2011
If the story was awful, I could easily have endured it, I realize now. I could’ve called him and said if he insists on writing elderly squibs, please just use a pseudonym. Let the Moxley interested in truth and beauty, etc., publish under his real name. But the story wasn’t awful. Not by a long shot.
In the eponymous opening story of Kevin Moffett’s Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, a modestly successful writer suddenly discovers his father (of the same name) has also begun writing, and that the elder’s stories about his wife’s death are being published at an alarming rate. While the younger writer struggles simultaneously with professional jealousy and the re-opening of his grief over his mother’s passing, the elder seems to have moved healthily and successfully forward, if not entirely on. Our protagonist refuses to read the stories, choosing instead to sulk, wallow, and play Etch-A-Sketch. He even stops writing, but finally has to deal with his father and all the issues that he has repressed over the years since his mother’s death. If you think this sounds terribly melancholy, it is… except that, in what will be the signature style of this collection, Moffett skillfully balances the sadness and poignancy with subtle but truly delightful humor, and a lot of heart.
Subsequent stories take us to similarly bittersweet places: a young couple driving a stranger’s car cross-country to its owner telephone him on a lark, only to discover his desperate need for connection once they have him on the line; a lonely woman recently moved to a retirement community finds herself in a relationship with a questionably existent Civil War soldier; John D. Rockefeller’s inner struggles are exacerbated when his favorite false teeth go missing in what turns out to be a manservant’s act of passive-aggression. In perhaps my very favorite in the collection, Lena, a widow and young mother regularly strolls through her neighborhood, often stopping to chat with Mrs. Appleman, an elderly neighbor with an “exquisitely benign dementia.” Mrs Appleman becomes Lena’s ideal confidante, for each visit is like meeting for the first time. When Mrs. Appleman inquires about the neighbors and the neighborhood, Lena tells a new fiction about herself, until one day, it seems that Mrs. Appleman might remember more than we once believed, and Lena is finally able to tell her story. Yet the story ultimately takes another twist, leaving the reader happy and sad and surprised all at once.
If credits matter to you, you might wish to know that the stories in this collection come with rather prestigious resumés, having been originally published in notable literary magazines such as Tin House, McSweeney’s, and Harvard Review, among others, not to mention the title story itself included in The Best American Short Stories 2010. But the real reason to read them is for Moffett’s accessible but very compelling writing; his conflicted and confused but very human, very likeable characters; and the unusual and interesting situations in which they found themselves. Moffett’s stories are intelligent, sad, funny, insightful, and quietly moving – a wonderful choice for lovers of short literary fiction.