Matthew Vollmer’s “Future Missionaries of America”

Future Missionaries of America
Matthew Vollmer

This was my favorite short story collection of 2016 (of meaning “read during”). Vollmer’s book “Inscriptions for Headstones” was high on my list in 2014, and I seem to really enjoy everything he writes and edits. I’m looking forward to reading his two other short stories as well.

The stories in here often relate to the religious -some, like the titular short that closes the book, and a handful of others, revolve completely around that theme. Others interact with the idea more subtly, portraits of men and women wandering around those struggles and questions that lead others, not them, to faith. Vollmer’s illustrations of religion pass no judgment either way -happy families come together in their faith and a schizophrenic interprets her hallucinations as divine instruction, and both of these are written with an authentic sense of remove that belies the author’s deliberate relationship with organized religion.

Vollmer writes very good contemporary literary fiction. He plays with form, (a story written as a will) his structure, mechanics, and narrative change to fit the piece, and everything is meticulously edited and clearly worked out. It’s tempting to call people like Vollmer “writer’s writers,” but that seems to sell them short. This is very good fiction that deserves -and ought to appeal to- a wider audience than currently read it.

Recommendation: Read it. Long live the short story!

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