Home » Newpages Blog » Interferenceand Other Stories

Interferenceand Other Stories

As Richard Hoffman is equally well known for his verse as his prose, it should come as no surprise that the thirteen stories (plus six interstitial very short-shorts) in this volume are at times lyrical, often beautiful, and move with a sense of rhythm and deep perception.

As Richard Hoffman is equally well known for his verse as his prose, it should come as no surprise that the thirteen stories (plus six interstitial very short-shorts) in this volume are at times lyrical, often beautiful, and move with a sense of rhythm and deep perception.

The stories span a wide range of topics – though most are set in an indeterminate present, a familiar time that could be anywhere from the seventies to today – from the widower song writer who visits a nude beach with his friends in search of new lyrics, to an existential dialogue between two billboard painters, all the way out to a fable whose main characters are a talking mule and goat. The variety here is astonishing, keeping the collection lively. Add to that six short-shorts based around a character, Guy, and his life story – spanning “Guy Goes into a Bar” to “Guy Looks for Work” and ending with “Guy goes up to the Pearly Gates” – and the collection builds unbelievable momentum. These “Guy” stories function not only as a sort of palate cleanser between courses but also as thematic settings, establishing what will be the main concerns in the following stories.

Hoffman’s strengths as a writer are many. In the first two stories of the volume, “Nothing to Look at Here,” which tells the tale of a police officer pulling over a speeding motorcyclist who happens to remind him of his deceased son, and “Gentlemen,” which concerns a car mechanic who is a recovering alcoholic, bent on protecting his daughter from a husband too much like he used to be, Hoffman masterfully balances the back story and the front story, creating tension in the present of the narrative while gradually filling in the past. The end result is a story that is as much back as front – which makes the stories feel real and multidimensional – yet the plots never feel bogged-down.

Also, Hoffman has a way with capturing identity, like the title character of “Harvey’s Story,” the man who visits the nude beach, who suffers from (among other things) terrible flatulence, his stomach generating “awful sounds, like cloth tearing or a chain run through a ring . . . or thunder, as if there were a storm inside the great inflated hollow of himself.” He is indeed a hollow man, barely able to emember his deceased wife “except for a few memories of their wedding, which were in fact memories of pictures of their wedding.”

Hoffman’s descriptions are deft and subtle, finding fresh ways of capturing defining features. Perhaps I was drawn to his characters so much because they are familiar; not just imaginable, but almost as if they are people I remember, like the boy in “Interference,” who would “sing into the window fan in his bedroom. He liked the funny way it made his voice sound and he imagined the words on the other side of the window, shredded into tiny pieces and blowing out over the neighborhood on the evening breeze.” This is something I did as a child, an action and sound I didn’t remember until I read Hoffman’s description; his prose is life-like, summoning.

Even down to the little details, Hoffman gets it right. Take, for instance, the titles of his stories – easy to overlook, but imbued with meaning. Like “Sugar,” just a simple word titling a simple story about a man who takes his toddler son to the supermarket; the two witness a fight in the parking lot, a representation of manhood, and the toddler has a temper tantrum, leading the father to “reach down deep in [his] pocket” for the candy he keeps there since he has quit smoking. In that line, the final line of the story, the title suddenly brings it all into focus, the sweetness, the addiction, the mollification, what’s inside. Likewise, in the volume’s final story, “Interference,” possible justifications for the title keep cropping up: the young protagonist interferes with his older brother’s activities, his mother interferes with his own, an older man begins to spend time with him in a way that is more than interfering and then, there it is on the last page, the sound the boy makes in his pain, “so harsh it was soft, so loud it was quiet, like rushing water or like the place on the radio dial between two stations, a muffled roar through which you could sometimes hear faint voices, though not what they were singing.” The titles create echoes, resonance that ripples through the stories, adding a whole new layer of meaning.

There is little about this volume not worthy of praise. Any one in need of well-plotted, beautifully written stories that will linger, thought-provokingly, after reading, is advised to get a copy of Richard Hoffman’s newest collection.

Spread the word!