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Shadow Traffic

stories by Richard Burgin

Publication Year: 2011

The New York Times Book Review has praised Richard Burgin’s stories as “eerily funny . . . dexterous . . . too haunting to be easily forgotten,” while the Philadelphia Inquirer calls him “one of America’s most distinctive storytellers . . . no one of his generation reports the contemporary war between the sexes with more devastating wit and accuracy.” Now, in Shadow Traffic, his seventh collection of stories, five-time Pushcart Prize winner Richard Burgin gives us his most incisive, witty, and daring collection to date as he explores the mysteries of love and identity, ambition and crime, and our ceaseless, if ambivalent, quest for truth. In “Memorial Day” an aging man at a public swimming pool recalls a brief but momentous affair he had with a young British woman in London thirty years ago and the paradoxical role his adored but recently deceased father played in it. In the highly suspenseful “Memo and Oblivion,” set in the near future in New York, two rival drug organizations engage in a dangerous battle for supremacy—one promoting a pill that increases memory exponentially, the other a pill that dramatically eliminates memory. “The Interview” centers on a B-movie starlet married to a much older and more famous director and her tragic yet comic interview with an ambitious but conflicted young reporter. Shadow Traffic justifies the New York Times’ claim that Burgin offers “characters of such variety that no generalizations about them can apply” and why the Boston Globe concluded that “Burgin’s tales capture the strangeness of a world that is simultaneously frightening and reassuring, and in the contemporary American short story nothing quite resembles his singular voice.” Praise for Richard Burgin "Burgin writes crisp and intelligent dialogue and description, and he handles disconcerting situations with deadpan ease . . . His characters—alone, alienated, desolate, and desperate—come alive on the page."—Publishers Weekly "Burgin is the poet laureate of loneliness and longing, writing economically, with humor and exquisite attention to interior monologues."—Philadelphia Inquirer "Burgin skates along the edge of realism and dark fantasy in fiction so supremely well made that all manner of fancy and menace is readily ingested."—Booklist "A writer at once elegant and disturbing, Burgin is among our finest artists of love at its most desperate."—Chicago Tribune "Burgin, in these engaging, haunted stories of obsession and misplaced, misguided affection, offers the reader both comedy and pathos, as if God is a comedian and humans are the punch line."—American Book Review "Burgin's prose is invigorating. Bravely and imaginatively, he characterizes that feeling of being adrift in a consumer-driven society and is particularly astute and funny dealing with the male viewpoint."—Review of Contemporary Fiction

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction


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pp. vii

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pp. 1-23

He leaned back and looked briefly at the Christmas lights on Kingshighway, then at the oddly shaped planetarium, which looked like an alien spaceship that had landed on the outskirts of Forest Park. Some piano pieces by Ravel were playing—not the usual thing you heard on the radio....

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The Dealer

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pp. 25-48

The dealer is a giant with a body like a bear’s. I’m a good-sized man but the dealer is taller and substantially heavier than me. Big as he is, his voice is even bigger and compels you to listen to it. There’s something else that’s special about his voice. When he talks you believe what he’s saying, at least initially, which gives ...

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Memorial Day

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pp. 49-72

There’s a lot to admire about Grandfather Pool. Even though he’s close to a hundred and moves very slowly, he walks by himself— doesn’t even use a walker. And even though his skin hangs on him like paper, you can see the outline of an excellent physique underneath. It’s as if his bones were playing hide-and-seek...

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Memo and Oblivion

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pp. 73-103

Although he was now taking Memo on a regular basis it was sometimes hard to remember the moment when he’d decided to become a member. He did remember how he’d first learned about it. It was through an ad in a literary quarterly, of all places, called The Galaxy Review. “Is Your Memory a Fiction?” the headline of...

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“Do You Like This Room?”

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pp. 105-124

She pulled back some of the hair that had fallen over her eyes, hair that she now realized was the same color brown as his. “Because there’re so many things here that are entertaining . . . like your giant TV and your stereo.”...

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Mission Beach

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pp. 125-143

It begins in the ocean with wave following wave, breaking over his head and sometimes over yours. You’re on vacation again with your twelve-year-old son, Andy, on crowded Mission Beach in San Diego and he’s jumping up and down in the water, laughing and squealing. You love the waves too, especially bodysurfing...

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The Dolphin

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pp. 145-158

It didn’t take much after that. In less than a minute they were walking together—money hadn’t even been discussed. Then he looked at her more closely and noticed that one of her front teeth was chipped, but she was still beautiful, he thought. They walked another block together, talking easily while he kept looking for a cab...

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The Justice Society

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pp. 159-185

It began when the air in his apartment changed. It grew heavier, becoming almost filmy, and had a faint but definite acrid smell. When he started to feel hotter and woke up in the night perspiring, he looked in his bathroom mirror. His hazel eyes looked watery and his hair seemed grayer—his whole face looked as if...

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The Interview

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pp. 187-207

The jeans were a disaster—a failure on every level. Not sexy enough, not classy enough, too preppy, like something from a different era. What was she thinking to even consider them for the interview? Her mind had been off lately, she knew that, as if it were taking delight in sabotaging her with one trap after...

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Single-Occupant House

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pp. 209-222

I would have stayed in the other place longer but the false teeth in the bathroom upset me. It was like walking along a beach looking for shells and suddenly seeing a dead lobster. A bad sign, a bad omen, so I knew I had to quit the house and go to the other I’d been considering on Silver Place. I couldn’t even...

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The Group

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pp. 223-240

It wasn’t until he’d finished coloring his hair that he realized he really was going to the group’s latest party. Throughout the afternoon, and for days before that, Summers had thought of various excuses he could make to Morton, who at this point hosted more parties per year than he wrote stories, yet he didn’t make the...

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The House

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pp. 241-266

He wouldn’t do that to himself again. He wouldn’t think of his dream last night where Melissa had been first a little girl and then a woman. Where he’d held her hand while they’d jumped the waves and she’d laughed a sound high and bell-like that he’d heard as clearly as if he’d seen her. Painful enough to have...


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pp. 267

E-ISBN-13: 9781421403557
E-ISBN-10: 1421403552
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402734
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402734

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction