October 18, 2020: “Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events” by Kevin Moffett

What’s been going on, Story366?

As noted the last couple of days, I had a Scout camping trip this weekend. Good news: I’m back. We had an excellent adventure, full of hiking and caving. I didn’t take part in the caving quite as much—not a big fan of tight, dark spaces—but had a good time all the same. We camped on top of a plateau in the middle of a cow pasture—there were pies—and we faced some violent winds, knocking over our dining fly. But really, this was a flawless campout, the Scouts having a good time, me having a good time, nobody hurt, everyone getting along, and lots of requirements demonstrated and signed off. My son is the senior patrol leader and this was his last campout in that post (they serve six-month terms)—he had a great campout in that role as well. When we leave for a campout, we can only hope things go as smoothly as they did this weekend. I wish I had a great story to tell, some kind of peculiar situation, but sorry to say, nothing worth mentioning (except the glass pipe, “probably used for smoking drugs” the boys found), which is a good thing.

Today I start yet another two-timers week here at Story366, weeks where I cover authors for a second time. I believe this is already the fourth such week I’ve done this year (or is it third?), with a couple of random entries thrown in. Today’s Two-Timer is Kevin Moffett. I first covered Moffett in May of 2016, reading from his debut, Permanent Visitors. Today I’m covering his second collection, Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, out in 2011 from Harper Perennial. I’ve always liked Moffett’s work, so I was more than happy to cover this second collection today. Let’s do it.

The title story is up first and is about Frederick Moxley, a guy with a creative writing degree, specializing in stories, who is teaching composition at the community college and languishing. He’s trying to write, to get his career started, but is having trouble. Things are really thrown awry when his father, also Frederick Moxley, publishes a story in a literary magazine, a story that’s somewhat based on their real-life experiences. And also very good.

Frederick lives with Carrie, his girlfriend, who also happened to be in his creative writing classes in college—that’s how they met. He also constantly refers to a class taught by a mentor, Hodgett, quoting Hodgett’s six rules for writing fiction, which include the avoidance of dreams and phone calls and epiphanies, all devices his father employs in excess.

Frederick spends a good deal of the story both dumbfounded and jealous of his father’s success. He has the stories, but takes a long time to read them—he’s too incensed to give his father a fair shake. When he does read them, he can’t bring himself to call his father and congratulate him, let alone admit the stories are good. He also has a lot of hangups over the reality of the proceedings, how his father kinda writes about Frederick’s dead mother, about incidents from their lives, objects in their house. The whole situation, sitting on the chest of his own writer’s block, has made him more anxious and impotent than ever.

Like in any good story, Moffett has his character face his challenges. First, he visits Hodgett, bringing along a bottle of his favorite booze. Hodgett doesn’t recognize him at first—another blow to Frederick’s ego—but then offers him some sage advice, though not necessarily what Frederick wanted to hear.

Near the end of the story, Frederick takes up his father on his offer to visit at Christmas. He brings Carrie along, who’s been egging him on to deal with this, too. Present also is Lara, Frederick’s stepmom since he was fifteen, this second marriage a common theme for the dad’s stories.

I won’t reveal how the story ends, though this is pretty deep into it already. This is a story about a writer writing a story—which the writer acknowledges—but it’s one of the better ones I’ve ever read. I’ve mentioned many times that I’m a sucker for father-son stories, so this also fits that bill. It’s a really good story, not only about writing, but about relationships, envy, and the kind of catharsis that sets in early, and just keeps on staking its claim.

“Buzzers” is about an architecture major named Andrew. Andrew leaves the hospital, where his father is very ill, to get on a plane for a European field trip with his class. He has a feeling his father will die soon, and sure enough, he does, while Andrew is on the way to the airport. He boards his plane and settles in, then gets the message from his mother informing him of his father’s passing. The plane is about to embark, but the door is still open. Andrew has to make a decision: Does he get off the plane, return to the hospital to be with his mother and sister, or does he go to Europe, call his mother from there, pretend he didn’t get the message until it was too late?

The last story in the book, “One Dog Year,” is about John D. Rockefeller, at 86 years old. He’s taken care of by a man named Pica (whom he calls his groom, but not in the sense you might think) and has a regimen of vitamins and health food going to keep him alive. One a business trip, he has the opportunity to fly in an airplane for the first time in his life, and while up in the sky, he experiences another first: chewing gum.

Kevin Moffett writes lively, interesting, and funny stories, but they all seem different from each other, his eclecticism on full display in Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events. I like the insight he discovers within his characters, forced, of course, by the situations he’s put them in. Still, he has a knack for placing the right character up against the right obstacle, forcing them into them to make the most intriguing choices. This makes for solid fiction, each time out.

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