THE BOOK: Theft: And Other Tales of Loss and the Working Class.
PUBLISHED IN: 2015
THE AUTHOR: John Abbott.
THE PUBLISHER: Cetywa Powell, publisher of UNDERGROUND VOICES of Los Angeles, California.
SUMMARY: My book is a short story collection featuring pieces that follow ordinary folks and the ordeals they face trying to live their lives. The events are sometimes commonplace (a boy trying to go trick or treating) and sometimes disturbing (a strange woman showing up in a man’s backyard claiming that she knows him). Some of the stories contain touches of the surreal, or what some call magical realism, but most of the stories dwell in the realm of literary fiction.
THE BACK STORY: I get a lot of ideas for short stories, but I’ve never had the time to write all of them. I can’t foresee a time in the near future where this may be the case. So, I write only those stories whose characters and plots really stick in my head. The ones that haunt me, those are the ones I write. This collection represents the best of these stories ranging from 2007 until 2013.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title, in part, refers to the story “Theft” included in the collection. I view this story as something of a centerpiece in that it contains many of the themes present throughout the collection. The other part of the title refers the type of characters featured in the book. I wanted the title to evoke a sense of timelessness and simplicity – almost like a modern folktale.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone interested in well-crafted stories in the tradition of Tobias Wolff, Jayne Ann Phillips, Richard Yates, and Joy Williams will enjoy this collection.
“Easy to forget all around us are worlds in motion with lives larger or smaller than our own involved in most of the similar intricacies it takes to survive, to live, to struggle, to love, suffer, procreate, laugh or just stand still. What’s not so easy is the ability to take all these individual identities and have them stand out in their worlds of activity where normally they might not. John Abbott’s ability to allow his characters and their situations to stand out on the page is something one gets in the exchange that takes place between he and his reader. Theft: And Other Tales of Loss and the Working Class masterfully accomplishes the deepest part of this relationship and offers the reader something unique, something apart from the expected, and from the commonplace in the name of a reality running parallel to our own and right before our eyes.” — Paul B. Roth, editor & publisher The Bitter.
“John Abbott’s stories remind me of those writers like Chekhov and de Maupassant. They have the same control of language, the same wry affection for their characters, the same understanding of, as Faulkner put, “the human heart in conflict with itself.” Every moment of emotion in these stories is earned, and the stories’ mastery literally jumps off the page when I read them. The work here is serious without being self-serious, funny without being easy, and always engaging.” — Steven Carter, author of I Was Howard Hughes and Famous Writers School
“This is a dazzling story collection about ordinary people in extraordinary moments, and Abbott give us these moments, beautifully, in lucid prose.” — J.D. Dolan, author of Phoenix: A Brother’s Life.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His stories and poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines, and his work has been nominated for Best American Short Stories, a Pushcart Prize, and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Besides this story collection, his full length works include a poetry chapbook available from Flutter Press and a novel. For more information about his writing, please visit http://www.johnabbottauthor.com
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Although I didn’t set out to tackle any particular issues in these stories, I noticed that some of the issues facing society (and individuals) showed up anyway. This seems to reflect real life: the issues/problems we most want to ignore hurt us worse than if we had faced them head on.
SAMPLE STORY: Some of the stories in this collection were published by literary magazines and can be read online by Googling ‘John Abbott Short Stories’ or by visiting his website (www.johnabbottauthor.com). Here is one of them:
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR
It was supposed to be an easy move. The Hamptons bought the house next door so they’d have a place that was really theirs. For years, Janet had lived in the home her husband had bought before they were married. Even though she did most of the decorating, she always felt the house carried a trace of the man Pete had been before they’d met. Over the years she had tried to not let this bother her. Lately, though, it seemed like her life had no direction. She needed to move forward. She needed something to call her own.
Her motivation increased whenever they were with their couple friends. Whenever Janet asked one of them how they were doing she’d get this reply: We’re in a good place right now. Janet wanted to know what that felt like. All she had was a routine that consisted of watching
game shows and old movies. She didn’t ever consciously decide that moving could shake things up, but when the house next to theirs went up for sale she jumped at the opportunity.
It took her three weeks to get Pete on board. Even after he agreed to the idea he still didn’t seem sure. At the closing his skin looked a strange color. He wouldn’t look at anyone. Once he left the room and didn’t return for half an hour. When he returned there was a huge stack of papers he needed to sign and initial and, as he took up the pen, she thought he was going to vomit.
After it was all over she bought him a ginger ale from a vending machine and they held hands on their way outside. His hand was sticky but she held tight.
“We’ll just bring over a few things everyday,” Janet said as they left realtor’s office. “We won’t even need a moving truck.”
Pete bit down on his lip and smiled with just the corner of his mouth.
“How about we get some food to celebrate?” she said. “Anything you’d like.”
He nodded but he still had that look which said he didn’t know kindness from malice. They ordered pizza with all the toppings Pete liked. They also stopped at a convenience store and picked up beer, paper plates and napkins; Janet figured they could eat at their new place. She parked in their new driveway, turned off the engine, and unbuckled.
“We should get home,” he said. “That pizza’s probably getting cold.”
A few days had gone by and Pete still hadn’t set foot inside their new property. She, on the other hand, had been over a lot, bringing over a couple items each time. A stack of hand towels here, a
couple plates there. Nothing that would be noticeable. Eventually, though, she’d need to do more and she was concerned how this would go over. Her friends told her to plan a romantic dinner at the new place. All you need to do is buy some champagne, light some candles, and fix his favorite food. He’ll come around. When she told them how he wouldn’t even come over for pizza, they got quiet. Oh, they said.
Over the next week Janet started bringing over the furniture. She didn’t try to hide it either. Pete would be watching a movie and she’d walk right by him carrying an end table or chair. “I guess I’m going to over to play house.” His only response was to sink into the sofa. One night after dinner she started dragging the dining room table toward the front door.
“Here,” Pete said, getting up from the sofa. “You can’t get that alone.”
They carried the table across both lawns and through the door of their new house. She expected to see him flinch or as entered but all he did was keep his steady grip on the table.
“Where do you want it?” he said.
They set the table down to give their arms a rest.
“Where do you think it would look good?”
Pete looked around.
“It’ll look the same no matter where it is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Pete?”
The furniture was all at the new place now. Her friends had helped move it while Pete was at work. Janet had wanted to at least leave the sofa and television, but Ruby had talked her out of it. Drastic times, babe. Janet knew that her friend was right. Pete had never come around on his own. He had always needed her to comfort him and make the change seem less overwhelming. But she had been doing this for years and was tired.
Once she had the new bedroom all set up, she went back to talk with Pete. She expected him to be upset, maybe start yelling at her, but he was just standing in the kitchen drinking a beer. She walked over to him and put her arm on his shoulder.
“Pete,” she said. “It’s time.”
He drank off some of his beer, set it on the counter, and then ran his hand over the surface of one of the cabinets.
“I don’t think I’m ready yet.”
“You remember when you quit your job as janitor to make cabinets full time?”
“Aren’t you happier now that you made the switch?”
He said he was, but that this was different.
“I’ve lived here a long time,” he said. “I don’t know anything else.”
On her way out of the kitchen she told him that there was nowhere to sleep unless he liked the floor. He followed her to the front door. She stopped before stepping outside and turned to face her husband. He stared past her. As she left the house she just told him she’d leave a light on for him.
A couple days passed before she saw Pete again. Janet was drinking coffee in the breakfast nook and looking out the window when Pete went by with the lawnmower. At first she simply waved as she would to any neighbor but, when she realized it was her husband, her hand froze. He saw her and stopped pushing the mower. He nodded. For a moment their eyes met. Then the breeze picked up, blowing grass clippings off of Pete’s shirt, and he continued mowing.
A week later they pulled into their respective driveways at the same time.
“How’ve you been, Pete?”
“All right I suppose. Bought a new bed and sofa the other day but I don’t care for them much.”
“You can sleep in our bed, you know. I actually miss your snoring.”
“I wish I could, Janet.”
“I don’t understand you,” she said.
Pete looked down at the bushes, touching the spots that were growing uneven.
“Maybe I can’t give you what you want.”
She wanted to say that she wasn’t asking for much, but she wasn’t sure that was true.
A month went by. She figured it was just a phase they were going through. All couples had them. At night, lying in the bed she had shared with Pete for ten years, she thought about starting over:
The thought of putting herself out there again after a divorce scared her. She knew building a new life was a lot of work, but then again, so was living with Pete.
All of these thoughts usually kept her awake. There was this urge to get up and look out the window to see if she could see Pete, an idea she knew was ridiculous because, for one, Pete went to bed at the same time every night and two, he always kept the curtains closed. So instead she’d just lay there and look at the ceiling or read a magazine.
She spent most of her time wondering what it looked like at Pete’s. Part of her wondered if he had found the exact same furniture and then set everything up as it had been. Perhaps he was simply waiting for her to get tired of the new place and come back home. All she had to do was walk through the door and things would be more or less as they were. As the nights got colder and the maples started to turn, she had to admit this idea had some appeal.
Finally, she cracked. She went over one evening with some takeout and an old detective movie. The walk between the two houses seemed unbearably long. When she arrived at the door, she turned the handle but found it locked. She set the food down and got out her keys. For a moment she wondered if she had tried the new key by mistake, but when she compared the two, she realized Pete changed the locks. Now if she wanted to go inside, she would have to knock, as any neighbor would.
WHERE TO BUY IT: The book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s. You can also purchase a digital copy for a Nook or Kindle.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I welcome any comments about my work. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My Twitter handle is John Abbott–@JPAbbottAuthor