The short stories in Matthew Vollmer’s infectious debut collection include a gambling addict who distractedly tries to support his son's attempt at an extreme world record, a widow seeking solace in the family lake house who instead finds her son with another man, and an inept pair of home economics students who struggle to repair their damaged robot baby.
A waiter at Yellowstone National Park seeks consolation in the arms of his dead friend's girlfriend. A young woman vacationing in Idaho becomes obsessed with a female poet and her adopted child. A deadbeat bus-driver with a gambling addiction watches his son attempt the impossible at the X Games. A temp in New York City distributes his will and testament to twenty-seven strangers, hoping to convince one of them to be its executor.
These are just some of the compellingly odd characters found in the pages of Matthew Vollmer’s brilliant debut collection, Future Missionaries of America. Taking us from a Seventh Day Adventist boarding school to a traveling exhibition of plasticine bodies, from the moonlit paths of Yellowstone National Park to a quiet New Hampshire lake house, Vollmer’s twelve stories are at once sorrowful, exuberant, and absurdly comical.
‘This debut short story collection unveils the subtle beauty in raw grief and general disappointment with being. Vollmer plays with absurdity, the loneliness of daily existence, and the importance of taking chances. Nine of the dozen stories have appeared in journals and magazines, but the collection maintains a natural cohesion, with terrifically dark but strangely sweet characters and plotlines. One centers on a deadbeat dad who, while visiting his straightedge son (a rising X Games star), is forced to come to terms with his self-disappointment. In another, a recent widow takes an impromptu retreat to the family lake house, only to discover her estranged son sequestered with an unfamiliar man. The title piece is narrated by a teenaged punk atheist, Alex, who has developed a crush on her staunchly Christian best friend and home economics partner, David Melashanko. Though the two share every surreptitious desire and potential misdeed, Alex is heartbroken to learn that Melashenko has been keeping a secret. Vollmer masters distinct personalities and surprising plots, writing deftly from many points of view, but in most cases the story ends just as the reader becomes invested.
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‘Vollmer's irresistible first collection offers a large cast of yearning characters: some lonely, some lost, some in love and some who, landing on the other side of life's devastations . . . now find their grief restive and revolting. Emotions may be inexpressible in these stories, but they do find expression, if not through words then through actions. . . . Vollmer writes with equal dexterity about teenagers and adults, men and women, atheists and believers, Goths and jocks, dropouts and doctors--less interested in getting down any particular demographic, it would seem, than in revealing the humans beneath. Expertly structured and utterly convincing, these stories represent the arrival of a strong new voice.’ —New York Times Book Review
‘Vollmer's impressive first book is a rare and gratifying achievement: a superbly written collection of short stories. Vollmer writes with great wisdom and insight about love, sex, and loss. He is particularly adept at depicting the thrilling experience of young love. Vollmer's narrative voice, reminiscent of T.C. Boyle, is also fully realized and very appealing-irreverent, vital, and bristling with vivid imagery and detail’ —Patrick Sullivan
‘Matthew Vollmer has a written a book that looks like America: it's big, funny, sad and hopeful; its ambition is to take over the world. I'm behind it one hundred per cent.’ —Daniel Wallace, author of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician and Big Fish
‘The characters who inhabit the hilarious, heartbreaking stories in Future Missionaries of America may be desperate, yet, for all their lost innocence, they have the capacity to celebrate life's joy and pain. At its best, Matthew Vollmer's writing bursts with a kind of ecstatic poetry; as one of his people says, 'reverent and wild and pure and transcendent.’ —Stewart O’Nan, author of Snow Angels, Songs for the Missing and Poe
‘In prose that manages to be both precise and expansive, Matthew Vollmer tells compassionate stories of people forced to take action against difficult circumstances. This collection is bold and risky, written by a courageous new writer.’ —Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight
‘There are large cracks in America, and a person can fall right down into them, and never be seen again. Many of Matthew Vollmer's characters are on the verge of doing that. Wacked-out teenagers, mountain survivalists, Adventist evangelists, compulsive gamblers, estranged mothers, Goth girls, world-class skateboarders, English department dopeheads, broken-hearted dentists, every one of them caught in the midst of an unimaginable situation, usually involving inexpressible love or grief. I have never read any stories like these. Quite often, these stories are saying the unsayable.’ —Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls
‘From the opening rhapsody to the final prayerful note, Matthew Vollmer's stories beautifully script the drama of a changed world in search of new words. Here you'll find the tensile strengths of realism set beside the radical innovations of experiment, the enduring power of the story reinvented for our new day. Virtuosic in its variations yet held together by a ballast of obsession, Future Missionaries of America has more range than most novels while doing brilliantly what stories do best: it deepens the mystery of others by making that mystery familiar.’ —Charles D'Ambrosio, author of The Point and Other Stories and The Dead Fish Museum
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