More than two months ago, I began asking when some of North Carolina’s bookstores might be hosting a visit by Matthew Vollmer, an N.C. native and author of the great new short story collection Future Missionaries of America. I had the great honor of interviewing Vollmer about his debut book back in January, and I can’t tell you how pleased I am to know that two Triangle bookstores will be hosting Vollmer this week: Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on Thursday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m., and McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village on Friday, March 27, at 2 p.m.
Talking about the craft to which he’s dedicated himself, Vollmer is both charming, insightful and surprising — qualities that can also be used to describe his fiction. Just to give readers a taste, here’s the opening paragraph to the title story of the new collection:
It’s sleeting on Valentine’s Day. I’m in the back booth of the Franklin Street McDonald’s, waiting for Melashenko to deliver the robotic baby we’re supposed to keep from suffering the slings and arrows of an unhappy infanthood, and writing him a letter on a napkin with the emergency topless ballpoint I keep in a hole in the lining of my hoodie. I write a I. in the corner of the first napkin and below that the date, February 14, 2003. I consider adding a little arrow-pierced heart, but I don’t want to conjure even the smallest of question marks in Melashenko’s head, so instead I draw a phantom heart in the air above the paper, which only confirms that I should definitely not draw it for real and that hearts are even more dangerous than sentimental closing signatures like Love or Love ya or Yours, any of which could inspire Melashenko to think I might think or even hope that we’re anything more than we are. So, potentially disastrous heart drawing averted, I begin the letter, as usual, with Dear Melashenko (his first name’s David but I use his last because I like the way it sounds, plus it ensures that I maintain a certain level of formality). Ten minutes later I’ve scribbled seven napkins’ worth of words, which I roll in a floppy scroll. I snap a hair band around the middle and draw the letters of his name down the side in the Gothiest font I can muster, to give it this look like it might’ve been written by an ancient scribe, one who’d dreamed of future devastations and consigned them to this fragile parchment, to be delivered on this date to the father of a baby who’s never been born.
And if you think the opening is good, just wait for the story’s remarkable twists and unforgettable finish. And don’t miss Vollmer’s visit to the Triangle this week.
Also noteworthy on this week’s literary calendar for the Triangle and Eastern North Carolina:
Bart Ehrman, chair of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and author of the bestselling book Quoting Jesus, with his new study, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them) — on Wednesday evening, March 25, at Quail Ridge Books; on Tuesday evening, March 31, at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop; and on Friday afternoon, April 3, at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village.
Shelby Stephenson, award-winning poet and editor of Pembroke Magazine, on Thursday evening, March 26, at McIntyre’s.
John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, author of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, on Saturday afternoon, March 28, at the Barnes & Noble, New Hope Commons, Durham.
Lynne Hinton, bestselling author of Friendship Cake, with her new book, The Order of Things, on Monday evening, March 30, at Quail Ridge Books.
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, with her new guidebook, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, on Monday evening, March 30, at the Regulator Bookshop.
And Raleigh author Therese Fowler, author of Souvenir, with her new book Reunion, on Tuesday evening, March 31, at Quail Ridge Books, and again on Thursday afternoon, April 2, at the Country Bookshop.
For updated information on literary events in North Carolina, bookmark the MetroBooks calendar.