is not, technically, a new writer. But he is probably that great fiction writer you’ve never heard of. Until now. The Chester Chronicles
is Moyer’s first book in more than twenty years, and his first novel.
calls Kermit Moyer “one of America’s undiscovered treasures.”
says Moyer’s stories “bring to mind the stories of Lorrie Moore.”
And according to Booklist
, which gave the book a starred review, Moyer “displays an unerring feel for those moments that distill both the pathos and the comedy of growing up.”
In The Chester Chronicles
, Chester "Chet" Patterson describes what life is like as an Army brat growing up in the 1950s and coming of age in the 1960s. His mother is a seductress and a lush, and his father is an Army officer whom Chet both resents and admires. Moving every two or three years, Chester is a perennial new kid as well as a bookish and movie-obsessed romantic. At the age of thirteen, he falls in love, he thinks, with his own first cousin. Each chapter could stand alone as a story about a pivotal moment, but taken together, the reader gets the whole of Chester's life. As Andre Dubus is quoted in the epigraph, "A life is a collection of stories." Each of Chester's stories takes him deeper into himself as well as a little farther into the century, during a time that includes the birth of rock and roll, the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassination of President Kennedy.
As Lee K. Abbott
says, “I am…keen to see that this moving [book] reach as many folks as have eyes.”
was my first teacher in MFA school. He soon became my mentor, thesis advisor, and friend. Back then, I read his collection of stories, Tumbling
, which The New York Times
called “impeccable,” when it was published in 1988. I was floored by Moyer’s ability to channel a child’s perspective in those stories, including the often sexually charged circumstances in which his characters found themselves. Now, in The Chester Chronicles
, he has honed and concentrated this skill, conveying the richness of one man’s inner experience as he comes of age along with the 20th century.
Moyer has a surgical ability to pare down to just the right phrase to describe a sensation or a gesture. Here’s the beginning of one of my favorite chapters, “Learning to Smoke,” in which Chester, at the age of 13, gets lessons in a bit more than smoking from his older cousin:
My cousin Frenchie is teaching me how to French inhale—a neat trick that involves jutting out your jaw just far enough to draw the smoke up from between your lips directly into your flaring nostrils. I’m sure that the dizziness I’m feeling is caused less by the carbonized tobacco hitting my still pristine lungs than by the taste of Frenchie’s cherry-red lipstick on the Parliament’s famously recessed filter tip.
Kermit once told me that for him, writing could be a slow, methodical process, because he works like a painter who, with a whole huge canvas before him, concentrates on one tiny segment at a time, getting each detail right before moving on to the next and the next.
He may work like a painter, but these stories are like gems, cut with the greatest of care and attention. They communicate through the simple drama of truths, multifaceted, and yet without pretentious devices. They build to a whole life’s experience, and they sparkle.
The Chester Chronicles by Kermit Moyer
is available now from Amazon
and The Permanent Press
. Read it, please. I am lucky to have such talented friends.