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A Novel

Matthew Roberson

Publication Year: 2014

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.
In Matthew Roberson’ s hands, the family’ s list-making transcends the simple goal of planning. Their lists reveal the aspirations and anxieties that lie beneath the superficial clatter of everyday activities. Fearing the aimless chaos of unplanned days, the family compulsively compiles lists as maps to steer them away from uncertainty and failure, and yet at what point does a list stop being a map and become the final destination? The family creates an illusory cloud of meaningful activity but cannot stave off the mortal entropies that mark the suburban middle class.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Ways To Die

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pp. 1-22

They’d been at the depot, wandering the aisles. The man wanted a new drill, and new gloves, and a tool shed, but they ended up buying a paint scraper and a long pole, and a pack of gum for the boy. It was almost summer, and the house needed painting...

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Then What?

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pp. 23-40

For the living room, the man needs a nail or screw that will hold the weight of print AND frame, so he checks the basement. He tries the toolbox, and then the plastic box past it, and then the little paper sacks in the cupboard, and nada. But he can always...

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Here’s What He Bought

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pp. 41-50

Back at The Depot, the man bought a fifteen-foot Do It Drill Snake! Why ask why? He had a plugged drain in the basement. At home, the snake didn’t work. Here’s the thing: THEY NEVER DO, except for plumbers. So, back to the store, and the same salesman in his goddamn...

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Things She Didn’t Think

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pp. 51-60

At an early meeting with Client A, in the good conference room, with the project leaders settling into their leather chairs, the polished table sporting a basket of muffins, and carafes of coffee, the woman didn’t think about living in a big city like New York...

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In Exchange

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pp. 61-72

Because it turned out life included paying electric bills, which—these days—involved setting up an online system of debits and credits, including seven digit accounts and tracking numbers & endlessly unkinking garden hoses, which problem she’d tried to solve by buying a...

Women’s Health Checklist

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pp. 73-76

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pp. 77-92

The man’s mother meant well, offering money. Just a little, she said. In exchange. She needed help getting the laundry up and down the basement stairs. She said the man’s stepfather struggled with the garbage cans, not that...

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pp. 93-104

Bills are due, but she needs to check their account, and the password won’t work—or maybe she’s using the one for their other bank—and she can’t find the notepad where she keeps track, and it’s best not to guess, because three strikes and she’ll...

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Come Thanksgiving

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pp. 105-118

Come Thanksgiving, the woman’s ready for a trip. She says, Let’s get out of town. Anywhere, she thinks. Away. The kids say they don’t want to visit grandma and grandpa. They’ve seen enough of grandma and grandpa...

This Placed

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pp. 119-132


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pp. 133-200

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pp. 201-209

This house had sheets in the closet, dishes in the cabinets. Out back, a cord of wood. There were bicycles in the garage. Children in the bedrooms. Tall, messy, attractive children who put on confused looks at the...

E-ISBN-13: 9781573668446
E-ISBN-10: 1573668443
Print-ISBN-13: 9781573661775
Print-ISBN-10: 1573661775

Page Count: 217
Illustrations: 13
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 874157256
MUSE Marc Record: Download for List

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Families -- Fiction.
  • Middle class -- United States -- Fiction.
  • Psychological fiction.
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