Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Matthew Roberson's Virtual Book Tour

An excerpt from his latest novel with insights from the author!

Book Puke is super excited to be a part of Matthew Roberson's book tour for List! Remember to check out the other stops this week! Click the banner below for more information.

Synopsis—Vignettes of a middle-class American family told through lists, each reflecting their obsessions, their complaints, their desires, and their humanity.

A suburban family of four—a man, woman, boy, and girl—struggle through claustrophobic days crowded with home improvement projects, conflicts at work and school, a job loss, illnesses, separation, and the wearying confrontation with aging. The accoutrements of modern life—electronic devices and vehicles—have ceased to be tools that support them and have become instead the central fulcrums around which their lives wheel as they chase “cleanliness” and other high virtues of middle American life.

Matthew Roberson is the author of three novels, 1998.6, Impotent, and List, and the editor of a critical book, Musing the Mosaic. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Fourteen Hills, Fiction International, and Western Humanities Review. He teaches at Central Michigan University, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Trees the man climbed without thinking. [1]

Thirty feet up a sticky pine whose branches dug divots from his palms―no problem, if a Nerf football was at stake. Or a maple onto whose lowest branch the man had to be boosted, and from which he’d eventually have to jump, if a limb needed to be cut. Done, and done, even when his neighbor said he was nuts. [2]

Never mind the bad example for the boy and the girl and every other kid in the neighborhood watching him go up and up and up after setting his beer can down.

Ladders, though, gave him pause, because the little ones shifted when their feet wobbled, and on top of them the man corrected like a seizure victim. [3]

Or they had weight, and lifting them into place felt like pivoting some great stretch of heavy pendulum into the sky, circus style. One wrong turn or tired arms, and down it would come, building speed to land on him, or his house, or take down the fence. [4]

And even when safely in place, those flimsy round rungs against his feet.

And the open space below, and standing way high up and reaching left or right, stretching one foot off the ladder, to bang in a nail or reach a tricky corner with the roller.

Climbing onto the roof and then off, backward onto the ladder again, and down, down, not able to see, a paint bucket swinging from his hand. [5]

The handyman never paused once. [6]

But the man knew it would take just one goof and the ground would come at him like a truck, snapping his neck or caving his ribs or twisting his leg so the rough edge of a bone would shoot out.

That would give the neighborhood kids something to see. [7]

It bothered the man that the boy and the girl would remember him as old, a tiring, middle aged man with frayed collars and loose skin on his neck and only enough energy to go maybe to the park or for a bike ride but never both. [8]

That the boy’s friends would joke they’d never seen the man off the couch or even sitting up. [9]

That the girl would see pictures of the man at twenty-five and say, every time, You look so young. [10]

Not one memory of the man jabbering that his little boy could sit up on his own.

The hours and hours and hours they’d sat outside the car wash and stopped for every construction site, so the girl could look at the trucks.

Or the museums, or the zoos, or the circus, or the summer soccer for little kids, or t-ball―stuff you do with kids before they’re old enough to remember the first thing.

Days at the beach digging holes in the sand. [11]

All of it lost, except to the man, and to the woman, who remembered, more, the man’s complaints about diapers. [12]


[1] Man, oh man, did I used to be guilty of this. Then, one day, it dawned on me that I was just getting too damn old, and that I was going to fall out of one sooner or later, to no good end.

[2] Yeah. I’ve done all these dumb things. Usually without an audience, though. What can I say, trees are fun to climb.

[3] Ladders might look sturdy to an observer. Ladders are not sturdy. They are not sturdy at all. First time I painted a house, one went straight out from under me. I really do remember looking at it laying down on the ground as I approached it at great speed. Broke a couple ribs.

[4] Even the little aluminum ones weigh a ton. And they’re ungainly. I hate ladders.

[5] You just don’t realize how many moving parts go into something so dull as painting. Then you paint. And you realize. And it’s a little overwhelming.

[6] When I had help painting our second family house, the handyman paused plenty. He was confident but cautious. The handyman in the story, though, needed to function more completely opposite the main character. Our main character is decidedly unsure about everything; he’s still a child in a lot of ways, though he’s expected to be a grown up. The all-knowing, all-confident handyman is both a figment of our main character’s immature (though maturing) sense of the world and a practical opposite to the main character’s uncertainties.

[7] In their nightmares. I still see remember seeing, as a kid, a couple of dead people drowned in a canoeing accident. How blue their skin was. Those sorts of images don’t go away easily.

[8] I’m tired and middle-aged, but I’m always up for anything. Our kids these days, however—
they’re not. TV is somehow always more entertaining. We make them go, anyway. :) More often than not, though, they’re involved in activities we just drive them to and then watch—
hockey, soccer, music, etc.

[9] This was a running gag my friends had about my father. Dad did lay on the couch a lot.

[10] Don’t you hate that? Because if you looked so young then, god knows what you must look like now. You, yourself, lose track of the change, on a daily basis. The old pictures (and what other people see in them vs now) really bring out the contrast.

[11] God, kids can be fun. I miss those times. Getting down on the floor and playing with blocks. The sandbox. Those flimsy plastic racecar tracks. I never got one, myself, as a kid—the racetrack—though I begged and begged. Made sure to get my kids at least a couple. Well, one, and that one broke, so another. Then my father-in-law bought some for us. Maybe he had the same issues I did.

[12] Don’t miss the damn diapers.

*Tomorrow, visit [PANK] blog to follow the tour and read interview questions that probe at the content of List. If you missed yesterday’s post, head over to PhD in Creative Writing!

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