REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS, & READINGS
Paul Martone interviews Boswell on Late Night Library (Tumbledown)
David Naimon interviews Boswell on Between the Covers (Tumbledown)
Tin House interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
Zola interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
The Watch interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
r.kv.r.y. interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
Houston Chronicle interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
KUHF audio interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
TV interview-KOB Albuquerque (Tumbledown)
Publishers Weekly interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
Houstonia interview with Boswell (Tumbledown)
Tony Hoagland and Robert Boswell interview each other at Friends of Writers
Interview with Boswell at TrendHunter
Interview with Boswell at Fiction Writers Review
Interview with Boswell at the Colorado Review
Interview with Boswell at the Southeast Review
Albert Martinez interviews Boswell about The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Ron Carlson interviews Boswell on Books & Co
Don Lee interviews Boswell in Ploughshares
The MFA program at the University of Arizona interviews Boswell and Antonya Nelson
Boswell reads "Brilliant Mistake" for InPrint
Boswell reads "Smoke" at Arizona State University
Boswell reads the opening to "The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards" at Creighton University
Boswell reads the opening to "The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards" at the University of Arizona
Bookslut reviews The Half-Known World
Review of The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards in Short Story Reviews
Review of The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards in the New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly reviews Century's Son
Michiko Kakutani's New York Times review of Crooked Hearts
Publishers Weekly reviews Mystery Ride
Chicago Tribune reviews American Owned Love
Chamber 4 reviews What Men Call Treasure
Seeing the World through Books reviews The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Corduroy Books reviews The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Crooked Hearts is reviewed by Kirkus
The Brooklyn Rail reviews The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Writers Read review of The Half-Known World
American Owned Love reviewed in the L.A. Times
Stories & Lectures
Boswell's story "American Epiphany" in r.kv.r.y.
Boswell's story "Sleeping in Bars" in Freight Stories
Boswell's story "The Holy Stall" in Five Chapters
Boswell's early story "The Right Thing" in Fictionaut
Purchase Boswell's lecture on characterization from the Warren Wilson archives.
Conferences & Retreats
Website for Gilssando, a film by Chip Hourihan based on a story by Boswell
Website for Crooked Hearts, an MGM film based on Boswell's first novel
Website for Twelve Mile Road, a CBS film based on Boswell's novel Mystery Ride
Gale Biography page for Boswell
Robert Boswell on Goodreads
Reviews of The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Kansas City Star: Brilliant Stories from a Cast of Weirdos (Mark Luce, reviewer)
Denis Johnson’s 1992 collection, “Jesus’ Son,” spends its pages traversing the country with a central character whose missteps—on the surface—look like those of any number of drug-addled protagonists. Beneath all the hallucinations, fights and general weirdness, Johnson steadily signals a shot at redemption, not so much looking for the way out, but rather the way through the mess his protagonist has become.
Reading Robert Boswell’s sometimes discomforting, occasionally raunchy, often funny and always electrifying new short-story collection, “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards,” one can’t help but be reminded of the skill and grace of Johnson. Boswell’s cast of not-quite-wells remains broken in so many ways, but rather than revel in their foibles, he explores them with intriguing structures, varying voices and an undercurrent of transcendence.
Most authors can’t perform such things without tripping into gimmicks or splatting into self-indulgence; here, however, Boswell showcases his incredible talents with seeming ease.
From the top of the first story, “No River Wide,” Boswell announces his presence: “Both things first: Greta Steno is two places at once and walking. She is in a Chicago neighborhood in the early fall on a sidewalk made ramshackle by tree roots, and she is barefoot in Florida on a warm winter evening, the broad leaves of a banana tree swiping at her hair. She is thirty-nine and forty-two years old.”
As the story of a friendship dissolving continues, Boswell manages to leap backward and forward in time without confusion and with a rawness that permeates the relationship between Greta and her supposed best friend, Ellen, and the tale also traces the slow demise of Duncan, Greta’s now-dead husband.
Boswell never shies from the jarring—a snake cut in two with a chain saw, a hotel manager demanding a strip search from a guest, performance art with ants, a guilt-ridden but humane priest—and yet manages not to let the downward spiral of many of his characters cast a thoroughly depressing pall over the book.
One of the best examples of this trait comes in the story “A Walk in Winter,” about a 32-year-old man, Conrad, who must return to his hometown in frozen North Dakota. His mother left when Conrad was just a boy, and his violent father left soon after. Boswell coils and layers what information he provides the reader but never preens as a literary showoff. He writes, “Conrad’s mother spoke often of the winter their lives turned grim, as well as the time before, when she had held out some hope. Conrad was returning to Chapman to identify his mother’s frozen remains.”
Boswell scatters such paroxysms of violence throughout the book, be it a car crash or a knock-down brawl with a bully, a heroin overdose or a crippled mother begging a priest to paddle her children. Such situations always fit the respective stories, and the violence perpetrated, whether emotional or physical, carries with it the seeds of moral redemption that Boswell appears interested in.
The book’s title story, and arguably its most interesting, follows a first-person narrator known as “Keen” through 10 assignments written for a parole application. The assignments, with titles like “Emotional Support,” “Understanding Mistakes” and “Family,” describe Keen’s three months of squatting in a cabin in the mountains with a cast of addicts and weirdos. Keen wants to straighten things out, to get off hard drugs, and his best friend Clete suggests a steady regimen of psychedelic mushrooms and alcohol. The story reads as both hilarious and haunting, as a series of bad-vibes events forces Keen to a not-so-welcome truth.
At one point in the story, Clete points out, “It’s beautiful here. Haven’t you noticed.” Those simple sentences succinctly sum up Boswell’s peculiar universe. Despite the strange happenings and often stranger people, the world of “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards” glitters with a rough-edged beauty that sprouts from Boswell’s spotlessly drawn and precisely penned characters.
Publisher’s Weekly, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, Robert Boswell. Graywolf, 288 pages
In this imaginative story collection, author Boswell (Century's Son) examines the limits and losses of ordinary souls with technical mastery and profound sympathy. In “No River Wide,” a widowed woman visiting a longtime friend in Florida discovers that their friendship is over; her story unfolds in overlapping narratives that form a startling, resonant meditation on the nature of time. Another story finds a 30-something returning to his North Dakota home to identify the body of his missing mother; what he finds instead frees him from the long shadow of his embittered father. In the title story, a gang spends the summer squatting in the home of a vacationing family, with dire consequences; in “Supreme Beings,” a priest's attempts to intervene in the lives of three troubled youths lead him to confront personal and professional failure. Boswell conveys the sordid but hopeful inner lives of average people with insight and care; his shorter stories (“Miss Famous,” “Skin Deep”) showcase his pleasure in language and invention, and his longer tales pack the emotional weight of a novel.
Kirkus: Robert Boswell, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Gifted novelist and essayist Boswell lets it all hang out in 13 unpredictable short stories. The collection opens with the showy “No River Wide,” which confoundingly juxtaposes the lives of a woman in two places at once. Many of the stories focus on formative periods. In “Smoke,” for example, a trio of adolescents boast about sex but keep their secrets, while “Supreme Beings” depicts a troubled 20-year-old convinced that Jesus Christ is hiding out in his town. A few pieces, like “City Bus,” are mere sketches instead of full-fledged portraits, but more often, the stories run deep. The best of them lean to the dark side, bordering on crime fiction tinged with a beat-influenced incongruity. “A Walk in Winter” is particularly tense, as a young man visits the country with a rural sheriff to find out whether the ruined corpse found nearby is his long-disappeared mother. The deeply uncomfortable title story follows a drifter named Keen during a summer of mushrooms and transgressions in a borrowed house with his amigos. Naturally, his bad mojo gets the best of him. Dealing with low lives, Boswell never abandons his insight or his storytelling verve, both on full display in “Lacunae.” Its protagonist, a divorced man who has lost his way in the world, contemplates fatherhood in its many forms. “Hearts can swell,” he thinks. “One’s father may speak the truth even as he settles into death. One’s mother may see in a coincidence the opportunity for redemption. One’s own child may have the blood and genes of another man. Reason may live in things that are not rational.” Few like what they see on the unwelcome voyages of self-discovery delineated here. Heartbreakers from a writer who knows how to do it right.
Library Journal: Robert Boswell The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Boswell vividly depicts characters whose problems in coming to terms with life and love are complicated by the fact that meanings and perceptions keep shifting in unexpected ways. The title story is arranged as a document written by a man undergoing rehab or seeking a parole from prison. As he confesses to a life of drug-induced confusion and violence, he more than once comes upon someone who appears to be dead, only to have that person come surprisingly to life. That he remains under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms for much of the story only partially explains his misperceptions. Some of the stories are very short sketches or vignettes of brief encounters of a sexual or violent nature, while the longer stories are more novelistic and include large casts of characters and complex narratives. Boswell, whose style and subject matter is somewhat reminiscent of Tobias Wolff and Robert Stone, is a virtuoso of descriptive prose, and handles the psychological and emotional imagery with skill.
Reviews of Mystery Ride
MYSTERY RIDE spent three weeks on the PW best seller list. It made the Chicago Tribune Best Books of the year list.
Publishers Weekly: Robert Boswell, Mystery Ride
Boswell's memorable first novel, Crooked Hearts, about a dsyfunctional family, established his reputation on the literary scene...This new work makes a brilliant return to the subject Boswell writes about with distinctive tenderness and humor: a marriage that has fractured, although the love husband and wife once felt for each other endures as a touchstone in their lives. The novel reflects Boswell's increasing maturity and wisdom; its characters--especially an exasperating teenager--are vivid and fresh, its truths poignant and penetrating. The "Mystery Ride" (from a Springsteen song) is marriage, and here is "the almost inexhaustible mystery of love found and lost." Brimming with high ideals, Angela and Stephen Landis wed in the '60s and moved to a farm in Iowa, where their daughter Dulcie was born. Later, desperate for a life outside the confines of the farm and its small community, Angela left Stephen. She has remarried, and Dulcie is a rebellious, almost dangerously unstable adolescent when Angela returns to the farm for the first time in a decade to leave the fractious 15-year-old with her father. As Boswell cross-cuts among different events over a 20-year span, he draws a nuanced portrait of decent people striving to connect with each other. A fundamentalist Christian couple in the farm community is sketched with as much empathy as Angela's second, philandering husband and Stephen's understanding girlfriend. Boswell's compassion for his characters, his coherent control of motivation and plot, help him build to a series of tremendously affecting events, followed by Dulcie's quiet epiphany and an unforgettable ending. The dialogue has wit and energy, and the details of farm routine are rendered with impressive authenticity. Most important, the book is charged with insight, resonating with questions about how one leads a moral, fulfilling life and accepts the mystery of love.
Library Journal: Robert Boswell MYSTERY RIDE
Life, indeed, can be a mystery ride. Who can explain the bonds that hold us together when the odds so often seem stacked against us? The answer lies best in works by novelists like Boswell, whose latest effort focuses on an American family separated by time, distance, and generation. Angela Vorda and Stephen Landis have been divorced for ten years. Remarried, she lives and works in Los Angeles; single, with a live-in woman friend, he owns a small farm in Iowa. Their daughter, Dulcie, lives with her mother and suffers from more than the usual teenage angst. In an attempt to straighten out Dulcie, Angela arranges for her to spend the summer with Stephen. Struggling to adjust to these changed circumstances, both Dulcie and her father learn some important truths about life and love. Combining wisdom, humor, and poignancy in equal measure, this well-told tale inexorably draws in the reader. Highly recommended.