The characters in Matthew Pitt’s debut short story collection strive to blend into the background only to wind up emerging from—or being prodded past—the scrims of convention. Some do it bravely; others with reckless abandonment. In “The Mean,” a cancer-stricken, high school math teacher’s plan to live out his days in quiet moderation shatters, after he befriends a gang of stoner dropouts. In “Au Lieu des Fleurs,” dead Parisian prankster-anarchist Mouna Aguigui visits a grieving office worker, nudging him and others to commit madcap acts of agitation. In “Kokomo,” a young boy living in rural Indiana becomes attuned to a piercing hum—a noise that may presage apocalyptic events. And in the title story, a public address announcer entertains crowds by airing the local baseball team’s dirty laundry for the entire stadium to hear. Throughout the people inside these eleven stories are jolted—awake, alert, and alive—by patchwork alliances, bracing humor, and episodes of surreal grace. Matthew Pitt is a writer who understands and explores the strange balance between the serious and the comic, the quirky and the familiar. Irresistibly complex, always imaginative, these stories showcase an immensely talented writer grappling with the ironies and difficulties of life in the new century.
Advance Praise for Attention Please Now:
“A remarkable debut by a brilliant young writer.”
—Brian Morton, author of Breakable You and Starting Out in the Evening, a PEN/Faulkner finalist
“For sheer intelligence and range the stories in Attention Please Now cause us to sit up and take notice. Matthew Pitt is a writer who deserves our attention, gaining it through the power of style and imagination, keeping it through strength of mind and heart.”
—Janet Peery, author of What the Thunder Said and The River Beyond the World, a National Book Award finalist
“The world in these taut, finely wrought stories is and is not the world we know. Pitt pushes his characters to the edge of the possible with a fabulist’s eye for the strange, potent detail and the realist’s sure grasp of human emotion. A piquant, funny, original debut.”
—Rachel Pastan, author of Lady of the Snakes and This Side of Married
“The central characters of these remarkable stories are oddly ordinary and inordinately odd: that is to say, they are each uniquely qualified to speak for life outside of fiction. Pitt allows them to build the worlds they inhabit from their very particular understandings of what life is, thus endowing their narratives with unpredictable outcomes, and startlingly unexpected revelations along the way. Attention Please Now is a collection possessed of a genuine fictional beauty.”
—Chuck Wachtel, author of The Gates and Joe the Engineer, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Citation
Excerpt of “Golden Retrievers,” from Attention Please Now:
Even before August, summer was smothering the dogs of L.A. June’s heat wave shocked Orange County. The forecasters laughed it off. It’ll peter out, they predicted; but it didn’t. A tractor-trailer filled with Pacific fish jackknifed in July, leaving Hollywood and Vine smelling of mackerel and eel and smelt roe, a foggy, murderous scent the street cleaners couldn’t erase. A scent the dogs could neither locate nor escape from. They ran down Gower beside their owners, actors trying to shed water weight in the heat. They ran across bridges which rose above rivers; when the dogs saw the barren riverbeds they howled. Their tongues swelled as they begged licks of Evian from their masters’ palms.
Then came August 5th—and the meltdown of Susie Light’s Hollywood career. On the evening of the 4th, Susie shut out the lights at Peticular Bliss, her kennel for the dogs of stars. She’d just finished preparing sixty meals: fifteen low-cal, eleven no-fat, nine vegetarian, and twenty-five more assorted rations, all done up with capers, coated with twists of lemon, and spooned into colorful, Fiesta-style ceramic bowls. The next morning Susie knew something was wrong by the smell outside the bedding area. Food. Food? But the dogs always ate what was given them. She unlocked the door. A pulse of heat lurched at her. Her hair fizzed, her lungs felt thin: The air inside was grim and splintered with stillness.
Susie walked the aisles, pawing fur, checking for heartbeats, holding her breath in hope of hearing theirs. A minute later, a recorded, eerily perky, female voice filled the otherwise silent room. It came from Ab’s suite. Ab Doberman, a Pinscher belonging to an aerobics instructor who taped two shows for ESPN2: Lose the Fat! and Living With Fat. The instructor insisted that Ab wake up in the morning to her programs. Susie approached Ab: His rangy body lay stiff on the carpet and his face was a queer void, though his nose was still slightly moist, like a stick of butter left out to soften. She bent down and petted his fur. You liked Desert Palm Bottled Water mixed with a protein supplement that made it look like split pea soup, and you liked to hear your owner feeling the burn. Could you be dead too, baby?