Boswell, Robert 1953-
BOSWELL, Robert 1953-
PERSONAL: Born December 8, 1953, in Sikeston, MO; son of Albert Russell (a teacher) and Annelle (a realtor; maiden name, Eley) Boswell; married Antonya Nelson (a writer), July 28, 1984; children: Jade Nelson, Noah Nelson. Education: University of Arizona, Tucson, B.S. (English and psychology), M.A. (rehabilitation counseling), M.F.A, 1984.
CAREER: Educator and fiction writer. University of Arizona, Tucson, graduate assistant, 1981-84, instructor in English, 1984-86; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, assistant professor of English, 1986-89; Warren Wilson College, instructor in M.F.A. program, 1986—; New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, professor of English, 1989—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Iowa School of Letters Award for short fiction, 1985, for Dancing in the Movies; fellowships from Arizona Commission on the Arts, 1986, National Endowment for the Arts, 1987 and 1993, Guggenheim Foundation, 1989, Illinois Arts Council, 1989, and Lila Wallace/Woodrow Wilson, 1994; John Gassner Playwrighting Award, 1994, for Tongues; PEN West Award for best fiction, 1995, for Living to Be a Hundred; Philip K. Dick Award finalist, 1996, for Virtual Death; Evil Companions Award, 1996;
Dancing in the Movies (short stories), University of Iowa Press, 1986.
Crooked Hearts (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
The Geography of Desire (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
Mystery Ride, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
Living to Be a Hundred (stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
(As Shale Aaron) Virtual Death (novel), Harper Collins (New York, NY), 1995.
American Owned Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
Tongues (play), produced by American Southwest Theatre Company (Las Cruces, NM), 1999.
Century's Son, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Work represented in anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, New Stories from the South, Passages North Anthology, The Pushcart Anthology 2000, Still Wild: An Anthology of Western Stories, and Voice Louder Than Words. Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, Esquire, Harvard Review, TriQuarterly, Colorado Review, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, North American Review, Antioch Review, New Times, and Iowa Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Boswell is an author of both short stories and novels. His first book, Dancing in theMovies, is comprised of six realistic tales about the grimmer aspects of life. The protagonists in these stories are often haunted by guilt or fear. In "The Darkness of Love," for instance, a black police officer realizes that he harbors suspicions against his own race; and in "The Right Thing" a Vietnam War veteran returns home only to suffer jolting recollections of jungle life. Still other tales concentrate on similarly unnerving situations. In "Little Bear" an American soldier in the Korean War experiences mutilation, while in the title tale a college student returns home and finds that his girlfriend is a heroin addict. Ellen Lesser, writing in the Village Voice, declared that the tales in Dancing in the Movies "add up to stunning performance."
In his first novel, Crooked Hearts, Boswell writes of an American family plagued by failure and internal strife. The members of this family, the Warrens, were described by New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani as "sensitive, eccentric and chronically adolescent." Among the memorable members of the Warren clan are Edward, the father, who longs for the matrimonial harmony that preceded his infidelities; Jill, the mother, who sees moving into a new house as an opportunity for another start in life; son Edward, who also longs for a fresh start, but one away from the other family members; and son Charley, who likewise fantasizes a break from the clan's uncomfortably close—and, thus, often unhealthy—ties. Kakutani called Crooked Hearts "a dazzling debut" novel.
Boswell followed Crooked Hearts with The Geography of Desire, in which Leon Green contrives to overcome unhappiness, including guilt over a past crime, by fleeing the United States for Central America, where he lives seaside as a self-consciously mysterious hotel operator. Unfortunately for Leon, even with a fresh start he finds himself once again in uncomfortable circumstances, this time as part of a love triangle with far-reaching implications. Matters become further complicated when Green, who is already conducting love affairs with both a bookstore manager and a local teenager, becomes romantically obsessed with an American tourist whose past is similarly murky. Boswell, Kakutani noted in the New York Times, "expertly delineates the complicated geometry of emotions that develop among these characters." And Paul Skenazy, in his review for Chicago Tribune Books, commended Boswell for his "evocative prose and immense lyrical talents." Skenazy deemed The Geography of Desire an "often stunning blend of eroticism and intrigue, tall tales and seedy politics."
In 1993 Boswell published Mystery Ride, which is, like much of his work, about dysfunctional families and the way in which their lives unfold. It is the story of a couple who moved to a remote farm in Iowa to begin their family. Years later, the wife begins to suffocate in the small town community and leaves with her daughter, only to bring her back to her father as a rebellious teenager. As William Clark of Publishers Weekly commented, "Mystery Ride is . . . about love and loss, about the ways in which ordinary people endure their lives." Clark also noted that Boswell has "the ability to orchestrate time and point of view, to create characters with unforgettable voices." Another Publishers Weekly critic found the book to be "charged with insight, resonating with questions about how one leads a moral, fulfilling life and accepts the mysteries of love."
Boswell's second collection of short stories is titled Living to Be a Hundred. Many of the protagonists in these eleven stories are miserable, middle-aged men, looking back on their glory days and trying to pinpoint one specific moment when their lives took a turn for the worst. In "Salt Commons" a man is kidnaped by a crazy woman and mourns all the experiences he never had. In "The Products of Love" a man is in love with his married neighbor, but is too guarded to act on his feelings. And in "The Earth's Crown" a small town grocery store owner's wife is about to leave him when he goes back to a former lover, only to find that she is a surrogate mother. Donna Seaman of Booklist reported that Living to Be a Hundred was "suffused with beauty and the thrill of surrender," while a Publishers Weekly critic felt that "though the collection suffers somewhat from a certain sameness of theme, Boswell's tales are gracefully written and often haunting." Living to Be a Hundred received the PEN West Award for fiction in 1995.
American Owned Love, Boswell's fourth novel, uses the Rio Grande River in New Mexico as a major theme for the separation of race and class in America. On one side of the river is Persimmon, a middle-class, white community where promiscuous Gay Schaefer lives with her teenager, Rita. Across the river is Apuro, a virtual shantytown of illegal immigrants. Rudy Salazar lives in Apuro and his crazed distaste for Mexicans that have made it over the river to live in Persimmon brings him into Rita's life. "Boswell has demonstrated a compassionate understanding of dysfunctional families and misfits, and his insights about the self-destructive behavior of most of his characters are both bitingly sharp and tender," commented a Publishers Weekly writer. Mary Frances Wilkens of Booklist called this novel "beautiful" as it uncovers "happiness and despair on both sides of the river."
Boswell creates another fascinating and unusual family in Century's Son. Zhenya is a college professor who is married to Morgan, a successful union activist turned garbage man after the suicide of their twelve-year-old son. Her father, an eccentric Russian writer, suddenly comes to live with them and is the subject of the title, as he falsely claims to be a hundred years old. Along with their daughter Emma and the son she bore at age fourteen, this family has been living in a sort of trance since the death of Philip. The arrival of Zhenya's father shakes their world and forces them to look more closely at their lives. Lawrence Lundgren of Library Journal called Century's Son a tale of "love and loss, anger and forgiveness, and the truth that offers the possibility of a redeeming life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Living to Be a Hundred, p. 1180; June 1, 1997, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of American Owned Love, p. 1654; March 15, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Century's Son, p. 1210.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2002, review of Century's Son, p. 203.
Library Journal, January 24, 1994, review of Living to Be a Hundred, p. 40; February 24, 1997, p. 63; April 1, 1997, Nancy Pearl, review of American Owned Love, p. 122; March 15, 2002, Lawrence Lundgren, review of Century's Son, p. 106.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 8, 1989, p. 8.
New Yorker, March 1, 1993, review of Mystery Ride, p. 115.
New York Times, May 27, 1987; July 2, 1987; September 12, 1989; January 22, 1993, Michiko Kakutani, review of Mystery Ride, p. C25.
New York Times Book Review, October 1, 1989, p. 25; May 4, 1997, David Gates, review of American Owned Love, p. 24; April 21, 2002, Jonathan Dee, review of Century's Son, p. 22.
Ploughshares, winter, 1996-97, Don Lee, "About Robert Boswell: A Profile."
Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1992, review of Mystery Ride, p. 44; January 25, 1993, William Clark, interview with Boswell, p. 65; January 24, 1994, p. 40; February 24, 1997, review of American Owned Love, p. 63; May 17, 1999, p. 56; March 18, 2002, review of Century's Son, p. 79.
Times (London, England), December 27, 1997, Jane Shilling, review of American Owned Love, p. 21; July 26, 1997, Sean Coughlan, review of The Geography of Desire, p. 13.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 1, 1989, Section 14, p. 7.
Village Voice, March 18, 1986, p. 48.
Washington Post, October 5, 1989.
New Mexico State University Web site,http://www.nmsu.edu/ (July 21, 2003).
Writers Register,http://www.writersregister.com/ (November 14, 2003).*