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English department

Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events
by Kevin Moffett

“‘Anything worth saying,’ Hodgett used to declare, ‘is unsayable. That’s why we tell stories.” This is certainly true of Kevin Moffett’s Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events: a series of heart-wrenching and subtly hilarious short stories that left me wondering what exactly was worth reading as Moffett attempts to be heard through the complexity of everyday life.

The first story in the collection, which provides the series with its name, draws us into the heart of the collection with its autobiographical nature. The story feels almost like a forward to the rest of the collection and expounds the power and purpose of storytelling. Compounding on the autobiographical nature is the theme of the creative writing process and the struggles of being a professional writer. We experience the narrator’s pain first hand. In the midst of his depression, which results from his retired father writing short stories in his spare time and seemingly surpassing his professional-writer son, the narrator breaks down in front of his English class when a student hands him a bag of Cheetos. “I let go. I wept in front of the class while they looked horrified, bored, amused, sympathetic. ‘It’s just, that was so nice,’ I explained.”

Each short story provides a different account of people making choices and struggling to live with the consequences. In the story buzzers, for example, aspiring architect Andrew waits, unmoving, for the airplane doors to close so he has no choice but to continue with his travels to Italy instead of return home to help his family deal with the recent death of his father. “The correct, the only thing for him to do was to start making his way home...but the thought of asking the woman to unbuckle her seat belt and stand up so that he could stand up...had begun to make him very, very tired.” Situations like these are Moffett’s greatest strength: his ability to give poignancy to seemingly mundane occurrences.

Throughout the collection Moffett attempts to assign deep significance to everyday habits and happenings. The story In the Pines, for example, describes the transition of Alta, a thrice widowed woman, from her home in Florida to a retirement community in rural Pennsylvania. Her great-niece, Brenna, asks Alta if she may have her wedding ring for her own wedding and asks for some matronly advice along with the generous gift. “Afterward, sitting on her patio, Alta knew she could’ve told Brenna to eat corn chowder only on odd-numbered Thursdays and the girl would’ve said that means a lot.” Moffett intends for these seemingly inane conversations to be profound but at times fails to bridge the gap between story and significance.

The lessons of each story hint at a deeper meaning but these lessons seem unsayable for the characters and for Moffett. In the story English Made Easy, the main character, Lena, stumbles upon the rusted-over bicycle that belonged to her now deceased husband. “‘If bikes were horses’, Lena thinks, stealing one last look at it. She leaves the thought incomplete, lets it grow untended, like deep-woods weed, as she pushes Lyle home.” This is a beautifully constructed sentence, but one in which we gain no knowledge about how Lena was feeling. In addition to this, we are left to wonder what meaning Moffett was trying to communicate.

Just as we find it difficult to make sense of our everyday lives, Moffett’s stories ‘interpret real life’ in a way that makes overall meaning unsayable. Unlike real life, however, the structure of each story feels familiar by the end of the book. Although redundancy builds with each successive story, Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events nevertheless fully grasps the complexity of human emotion in an array of contexts and plights. Each story brings a slightly different perspective on decision making and suffering. From the amusement park worker who deliberates whether or not to retrieve his swallowed dental crown from his feces, to John D. Rockefeller who finds himself at the end of his life with nothing truly meaningful left, Moffett’s characters are such that it is enthralling to suffer with them. This collection’s clear, easy to follow pace, poignant situations, and vivid imagery provided me with an enjoyable and memorable reading experience.