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Shadow Traffic

, 280 pages
November 2013



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Shadow Traffic

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Favorite Book of 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 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."

Richard Burgin—teacher, critic, editor, and composer—is best known for his short fiction. He is the author of fifteen books, including Fear of Blue Skies, The Spirit Returns, and The Conference on Beautiful Moments, all published by Johns Hopkins . He is founder and editor of the award-winning literary journal Boulevard and a professor of communication and English at Saint Louis University.

"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."

"Burgin is the poet laureate of loneliness and longing, writing economically, with humor and exquisite attention to interior monologues."

"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."

"A writer at once elegant and disturbing, Burgin is among our finest artists of love at its most desperate."

"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."

"Burgin taps into humanity at its weakest in his seventh collection of darkly captivating stories. Gritty realistic scenarios, such as 'The Dolphin,' in which a bystander attempts to persuade a fellow drinker at a strip club not to murder one of the dancers, mix uneasily with more surreal stories in the style of parables, such as 'Memo and Oblivion,' where the world is divided into factions of people who take prescription drugs to either remember or forget. Burgin deftly exposes his characters’ most sacredly held fears with a tenderness that makes the reader exalt in their small triumphs. In one of the standouts, 'Mission Beach,' a single father on vacation with his 12-year-old son in San Diego contemplates the breadth of his love for the boy as he spends hours with him in the surf at the expense of a possible romantic interlude. Burgin shows admirable range in this collection, which is hugely varied in both style and form, and while there are clear standouts, there’s not a single throwaway."

"Richard Burgin continues to have his finger on the pulse of modern experience as do few others and Shadow Traffic shows him at the top of form, refining a vision that, story by story and volume by volume has made him a master of contemporary short fiction and a prince of our disorder."

"Each of these astounding tales resonates in a unique way, and it's not surprising that Burgin has won five Pushcart Prizes for his short stories."

" Shadow Traffic is a shockingly splendid example of psychological noir. No contemporary writer of the short story creates better characters than Richard Burgin. In Shadow Traffic, Burgin manages to cram a novel’s-worth of character into each of these twelve tightly-woven stories, giving us unforgettable character psyches that defy simple classification."

" Shadow Traffic is a special book, one worth repeated readings, one worth taking to the bar to read over eight beers and a whiskey on a rainy day. It is one to pass around. It is an example of a pattern for great literature... It is a horizon far ahead of the majority of short fiction writers working today."

"He is certainly one of our best short story writers, with a clarity of style and thinking that's become increasingly rare in these days of workshop artificiality. The Conference on Beautiful Moments was one of the best story collections of recent years, and Shadow Traffic is more than a worthy successor."

"Burgin has an instinctive feel for the things in everyday life that are just a little bit wrong."

"This is unremitting stuff, and Burgin excels at it."

" Shadow Traffic, Richard Burgin’s newest collection of short fiction is brilliant, arguably his best book yet.... These are tales to be read more than once: first to find out what happens, for Burgin is a master of suspense; then again to savor the style and profound observations about the human condition. Shadow Traffic offers further evidence that its author is one of America’s best writers of short fiction."

"Author of fifteen previous books, Richard Burgin keeps pumping out gripping and resilient fiction year after year."

"This amalgam of tradition and originality is skillful pacing, complex tension, fertile conflict, and a seamlessly imaginative psychological treatment of character... so magnificently sinister."

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