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Catapult (2019-05-14)
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Biography, Literature & Literary studies



by Mowdy, Joel

Joel Mowdy's stories are quietly devastating in their intimate view of often invisible lives - the evicted, the addicted, the probated, the abused, like janitors, Vietnam vets, opioid addicts, graveyard shifters, sex workers, and salaried employees on the brink of homelessness. They're set in a fictional Long Island working class hamlet near Mastic Beach, NY, an area of New York long afflicted with poverty but blessed with natural beauty, where the author himself grew up.

Set largely in the 1990s, the twelve linked stories in Joel Mowdy's first book take place in and around Mastic Beach, a community on New York's Long Island that's close to the wealthy Hamptons but afflicted by widespread poverty. Mostly in their teens and early twenties, the characters struggle to become independent in various ways, ranging from taking typical low-paying jobs - hotel laundry, janitorial, restaurant, and landscaping work - to highly ingenious schemes, to exchanging sexual favors for a place to stay. A few make it to local community colleges; others end up in rehab or juvenile detention centers. However loving, their parents can offer little help. Those who are Vietnam veterans may suffer from PTSD; others from the addictions that often come with stressful lives.

Neighborhoods of small bungalows - formerly vacation homes - with dilapidated boats in the driveways hint at the waterways that open up close by. The beauty of the ocean beach offers further consolation, as does the often high-spirited temperament of youth. Joel Mowdy brings to his affecting collection both personal experience and a gift for discerning and lingering on the essential moments in his characters' stories. He intimately and vividly illuminates American lives that too seldom see the light.

If you loved Claire Vaye Watkins' BATTLEBORN, Andre Dubus III's DIRTY LOVE, Phil Clay's REDEPLOYMENT or the powerful sense of place and class in the fiction of writers like Bonnie Jo Campbell and Charles D'Ambrosio, you'll want to read this.

Joel Mowdy completed the MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where he was awarded the Prize in Creative Writing and the Moveen Residency. He grew up with twelve siblings in Mastic Beach, New York, and has worked in progressive education in Mexico, Indonesia, and Lithuania. He now lives in the forest in Lithuania with his wife and son. Floyd Harbor is his first book.

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Joel Mowdy's characters live on the edge of America, a geographical edge but also an economic, even spiritual one where the faded promises of love and money have washed up alongside a flotsam of masculinity, pop culture, and petty crime. These quietly heartbreaking, mordantly funny stories of people just hanging on, hoping for the tide to turn, are must-reads.

Quote: Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes

Joel Mowdy writes beautifully about one part of America left behind in the great heartless scramble that constitutes our society.

Quote: Jim Shepard, author of The World to Come

Just miles from the Hamptons, with Manhattan a kind of distant, belittling rumor, stories of desire and loss, crime and trouble, play out among the abandoned docks and potato barns of what had once been a quiet community. In its bleak humor, Floyd Harbor brings to mind Denis Johnson and Irvine Welsh, though it's also as moving and ecstatic as the early songs of Bruce Springsteen. The part of eastern Long Island portrayed here is Joel Mowdy's Yoknapatawpha - he knows it and makes us want to know it.

Quote: Zachary Lazar, author of Vengeance

Joel Mowdy had me with the lines: 'The 7-Eleven was neither a buoy nor a lighthouse. It was a small island.' There's some hard American truth right there. Sometimes, on a rough night, the only thing you can do is take refuge in the 7-Eleven. His people act recklessly and stupidly and on occasion lovingly - in other words, like us human beings. Floyd Harbor is a powerful, soulful, and unpretentious collection of stories. I'm grateful for it.

Quote: Peter Orner, author of Am I Alone Here?

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