The Conference on Beautiful Moments

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The Chicago Tribune has called Richard Burgin "among our finest artists of love at its most desperate," a critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer dubbed him "one of America’s most distinctive storytellers... I can think of no one else of his generation who reports the contemporary war between the sexes with more devastating wit and accuracy." Through an extraordinarily vivid and variegated set of characters, The Conference on Beautiful Moments, Burgin’s sixth collection of stories, continues his daringly dark yet often humorous exploration of these themes, as well as our mysterious quest for truth, success, and identity.

In the gently satiric "Jonathan and Lillian," a movie star throws a dinner party with very different meanings for her biographer, her butler and ex-lover, and herself. In "Cruise," an aging straight man befriends a young gay man. Together they meet on their cruise ship’s deck to confess to each other "the worst thing they have ever done." In the title story, a journalist sent to investigate a conference formerly devoted to discussing beauty in the arts discovers it has turned into something considerably more sinister.

In The Conference on Beautiful Moments, Burgin writes with equal compassion and insight about the homeless and the wealthy, prostitutes and businessmen, an autistic child and an art forger. His characters are masterfully illuminated by their interior narratives, which burst sharply into conversations at once intimate and calculated.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer

Burgin is the poet laureate of loneliness and longing, writing economically, with humor and exquisite attention to interior monologues.


Burgin skates along the edge of realism and dark fantasy in fiction so supremely well made that all manner of fancy and menace is readily ingested.

January Magazine

It takes a masterful writer to create characters who, regardless of whether they are likable, keep the reader engaged. Richard Burgin is such a writer.

The Arkansas Review

It's not an astonishing claim to speak of Burgin's mastery of the short story form. His multiple Pushcart Prizes speak to this... Both in subject and form Burgin never seems to tell the same story twice... Burgin [is] at the top of his game.

Per Contra

Richard Burgin’s voice is what takes you in. It can be casual to the point of breeziness, but with an undertone of insinuation that, like a street-corner whisper, at once draws you in deeper and warns you against following; it treats you almost obsessively to detail while seeming to withhold the one thing you need to know; it never loses its cheerful, dogged note even when describing the absolutely horrific; it has a nugget of ice at its center. It is, in short, the perfect instrument of urban anomie, and over the course of several fiction collections and a novel, Ghost Quartet, it has carved out a distinctive and unmistakable place in American letters. Burgin’s new collection, The Conference on Beautiful Moments, represents him in peak form.

Chicago Tribune

Burgin is always inventive and suspenseful, with tough and truthful insights about the quest for identity, authenticity, connection and commitment.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Burgin's compelling work examines loneliness... Burgin does a superb job of chronicling an essential human need.

Chautuaqua Literary Journal

The Conference on Beautiful Moments contains some of the best prose I've read in the last year, and while nearly every story is a model of psychological realism and philosophical depth, a sizable percentage of them also offer suspense of the praying-the-character-will-get-out-alive variety... Burgin as a portraitist of conjugal love that is neither idealized nor desperately bleak bears comparison with some of the literary-historical peaks in relationship-realism, like, say, William Dean Howells and Alice Munro.

The Pedestal

If his literary career ended today, Richard Burgin would certainly be ranked in the top tier of American short story writers... some of his best writing; for those already in the know, enjoy yet another strong collection by a master practitioner of the short story.

Sauce Magazine

The Conference on Beautiful Moments offers a negotiation—between reader and text, character and place, character and character—demonstrating that rather than a singular, breathtaking, life-changing moment, it is the process that contains the value, and sometimes the joy, of life.

Review of Contemporary Fiction
This is a work Chekhov could appreciate.

— Daniel Garrett

Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing

Burgin has the wonderful audacity to write about the beauty in desperate characters and tough situations and the skill to make readers believe it but wish they didn't.

Prairie Schooner

Stunningly effective, containing some of the best stories of [Burgin's] accomplished career... Burgin, at the peak of his considerable powers here, demonstrates the eternal difference between testimony and art, confession and paradox, journalism and fiction, Mencken and Faulkner.

American Book Review
Burgin in these engaging, haunted stories of obsession and misplaced, misguided affection, offers the reader both comedy and pathos, as if God is a comedian and humans are the punchline.

— George Williams

Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing
Burgin has the wonderful audacity to write about the beauty in desperate characters and tough situations and the skill to make readers believe it but wish they didn't.
Review of Contemporary Fiction - Daniel Garrett

This is a work Chekhov could appreciate.

American Book Review - George Williams

Burgin in these engaging, haunted stories of obsession and misplaced, misguided affection, offers the reader both comedy and pathos, as if God is a comedian and humans are the punchline.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801885181
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Series: Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Burgin is the author of 11 previous books, including The Spirit Returns, Fear of Blue Skies, and the novel Ghost Quartet. Three of his books were named Notable Books of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Burgin recently won his fifth Pushcart Prize, and he has had 15 other stories listed by the Pushcart Prize anthology as being among the year's best in previous years. He is both founder and editor of the internationally distributed and award-winning literary journal Boulevard and a professor of communication and English at St. Louis University.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Jonathan and Lillian     1
The Second Floor     25
Vivian and Sid Break Up     41
Robert and His Wife     63
Mayor Bat     81
Uncle Simon and Gene     97
Cruise     109
Dates in Hell     125
Duck Pills     135
The Conference on Beautiful Moments     153
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Customer Reviews

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