The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards

( 4 )


An enthralling and wise new collection from the author of Century's Son and one of America's most respected writers

I was twenty-nine years old and wanted to change before I hit thirty. Clete and I developed a plan for me . . . a plan that would work all that summer and beyond. Even after I left the mountain, it stuck.

Robert Boswell's extraordinary range is on full display in this crackling new collection. Set mainly in small, gritty American ...

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The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards: Stories

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An enthralling and wise new collection from the author of Century's Son and one of America's most respected writers

I was twenty-nine years old and wanted to change before I hit thirty. Clete and I developed a plan for me . . . a plan that would work all that summer and beyond. Even after I left the mountain, it stuck.

Robert Boswell's extraordinary range is on full display in this crackling new collection. Set mainly in small, gritty American cities no farther east than Chicago and as far west as El Paso, each of these stories is a world unto itself.

Two marriages end, one by death, the other by divorce, and the two wives, lifelong friends, become strangers to each other. A young man's obsession with visiting a fortune-teller leaves him nearly homeless. And in the unforgettable title story, a man dubbed Keen recounts the summer he spent on a mountain with his best friend, Clete, and a loose band of slackers, living in a borrowed house, abstaining from all drugs (other than mushrooms and beer)--and ultimately asking just what kind of harm we can do to one another.

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Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
Boswell’s new collection, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, brings together 13 stories of misfits next door, captured in moments when circumstance drags them in new directions.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this imaginative story collection, author Boswell (Century's Son) examines the limits and losses of ordinary souls with technical mastery and profound sympathy. In "No River Wide," a widowed woman visiting a longtime friend in Florida discovers that their friendship is over; her story unfolds in overlapping narratives that form a startling, resonant meditation on the nature of time. Another story finds a 30-something returning to his North Dakota home to identify the body of his missing mother; what he finds instead frees him from the long shadow of his embittered father. In the title story, a gang spends the summer squatting in the home of a vacationing family, with dire consequences; in "Supreme Beings," a priest's attempts to intervene in the lives of three troubled youths lead him to confront personal and professional failure. Boswell conveys the sordid but hopeful inner lives of average people with insight and care; his shorter stories ("Miss Famous," "Skin Deep") showcase his pleasure in language and invention, and his longer tales pack the emotional weight of a novel. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Boswell vividly depicts characters whose problems in coming to terms with life and love are complicated by the fact that meanings and perceptions keep shifting in unexpected ways. The title story is arranged as a document written by a man undergoing rehab or seeking a parole from prison. As he confesses to a life of drug-induced confusion and violence, he more than once comes upon someone who appears to be dead, only to have that person come surprisingly to life. That he remains under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms for much of the story only partially explains his misperceptions. Some of the stories are very short sketches or vignettes of brief encounters of a sexual or violent nature, while the longer stories are more novelistic and include large casts of characters and complex narratives. Boswell, whose style and subject matter is somewhat reminiscent of Tobias Wolff and Robert Stone, is a virtuoso of descriptive prose, and handles the psychological and emotional imagery with skill.
—Jim Coan

Kirkus Reviews
Gifted novelist and essayist Boswell (The Half-Known World, 2007, etc.) lets it all hang out in 13 unpredictable short stories. The collection opens with the showy "No River Wide," which confoundingly juxtaposes the lives of a woman in two places at once. Many of the stories focus on formative periods. In "Smoke," for example, a trio of adolescents boast about sex but keep their secrets, while "Supreme Beings" depicts a troubled 20-year-old convinced that Jesus Christ is hiding out in his town. A few pieces, like "City Bus," are mere sketches instead of full-fledged portraits, but more often, the stories run deep. The best of them lean to the dark side, bordering on crime fiction tinged with a beat-influenced incongruity. "A Walk in Winter" is particularly tense, as a young man visits the country with a rural sheriff to find out whether the ruined corpse found nearby is his long-disappeared mother. The deeply uncomfortable title story follows a drifter named Keen during a summer of mushrooms and transgressions in a borrowed house with his amigos. Naturally, his bad mojo gets the best of him. Dealing with low lives, Boswell never abandons his insight or his storytelling verve, both on full display in "Lacunae." Its protagonist, a divorced man who has lost his way in the world, contemplates fatherhood in its many forms. "Hearts can swell," he thinks. "One's father may speak the truth even as he settles into death. One's mother may see in a coincidence the opportunity for redemption. One's own child may have the blood and genes of another man. Reason may live in things that are not rational." Few like what they see on the unwelcome voyages of self-discovery delineated here. Heartbreakersfrom a writer who knows how to do it right. Agent: Alexis Hurley/Inkwell Management
From the Publisher
“Like Richard Yates, Robert Boswell seems always to wish he had better news for us. In the wide-ranging stories of The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, he wishes we weren’t so lost, so conflicted, so stubborn in our misapprehensions. But he’s been watching us too closely, with too clear an eye, too keen an intelligence, and besides, Boswell’s real talent, like Yates’s, is for telling us the truth.” —RICHARD RUSSO

“[Boswell] shows a sensitive and comprehensive understanding of the quirks that can shake a person off course: from fear, passivity and pride to external knocks and dings that are easier to spot, harder to fix.” —The New York Times Book Review

“An unnerving, fascinating collection.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975241
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 4/27/2009
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Boswell

Robert Boswell is the author of five novels, two short-story collections, and a collection of essays. He teaches creative writing at New Mexico State University, the University of Houston, and in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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