OF REAL-LIFE EVENTS
By Kevin Moffett
Harper Perennial, $14.99
Kevin Moffett’s collection of short stories begins with a tale about a young writer who specializes in “trueish stories about fathers and sons.” It is abundantly clear that Moffett himself is not remotely as limited or devoid of skill as the fictional Frederick Moxley, who has toiled at the storytelling art for years only to find out that his father has taken up the same pursuit, as a hobby.
Moffett’s stories are about relationships, family in particular, but he also explores the invisible line between our minds and reality.
The protagonist of “In the Pines” is a woman in a “retirement village” who, having outlived three husbands, feels lost without men.
The men in the old folks’ home do nothing but complain about sports teams or their digestion. Alta “had always relied on men to measure her own well-being — and, in better days, to enlarge it — and this, this dim, unanimous disregard, was not good.”
So she invents a man, a Civil War soldier who visits her on the back patio, tells her news of the latest battles, and gives her leaves and seedpods “for safekeeping.”
In the “Big Finish,” bird handler Hayes doesn’t invent a companion. Instead, he projects his own insecurities and anxieties on African grey parrots, Chick and Tara, who insist on calling him the name of their previous trainer. He tells the birds stories, often about his equally strange relationships with other animals — the lab mice he “freed,” the rabbits that mysterious died while under his care.
“One Dog Year,” about John D. Rockefeller and his groom (an archaic term for a nurse or personal attendant), returns to the theme of people near the end of their lives. Pica secretly hates his boss and constantly tells himself that the old man only has “one more dog year” left.
John D doesn’t enjoy his own life very much either. Much of his time is spent attempting to prolong it with laughing exercises and health drinks. He keeps his pockets full of dimes to give to children, admonishing them to save, not spend, them.
But when an airman comes to town to give a show, John D gets a small taste of what he has been missing in an unexpected way.
Moffett excels in the unexpected, which is part of what makes his stories such compelling reading. His ability to construct completely realized characters and complex plots in such a small space also makes him an excellent short story writer.