Driven by strange ambitions, bungled love, and a taste for – or abject fear of – physical danger, the characters in this collection enact the paradox in the concept of a quality snack: the dream of transmuting the mundane into something extraordinary.
In a wide range of forms and tones, the fifteen stories in Andy Mozina’s new collection, Quality Snacks,center on high-stakes performances by characters trying to gratify both deep and superficial needs, often with unexpected consequences. Driven by strange ambitions, bungled love, and a taste for-or abject fear of-physical danger, the collection’s characters enact the paradox in the concept of a quality snack: the dream of transmuting the mundane into something extraordinary.
Two teenage boys play chicken on a Milwaukee freeway. A man experiencing a career crisis watches a seventy-four-year-old great grandmother perform an aerial acrobatics routine at the top of a swaying 110-foot pole. Desperate to find a full-time job, a pizza delivery man is fooled into a humiliating sexual demonstration by a couple at a Midway Motor Lodge. A troubled young man tries to end his father’s verbal harassment by successfully hunting a polar bear. After an elf civil war destroys his Christmas operation, Santa Claus reinvents himself as a one-man baseball team and ends up desperate to win a single game. And in the title story, a flavor engineer at Frito-Lay tries to win his boss’s heart with a new strategy for Doritos that aims to reposition the brand from snack food to main course.
While some stories embrace pathos and some are humorous and some are realistic and some contain surreal elements, all of the stories in Quality Snacks share striking insight and a cast of compelling, well-conceived characters. This collection, in an earlier form, has been a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award, the Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest, the Elixir Press Fiction Award, and the Autumn House Fiction Contest, and a semi-finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize. Readers of fiction will be satisfied by the variety of fare offered by Quality Snacks.
Andy Mozina depicts high-stakes performances to gratify both deep and superficial needs: A man experiencing a career crisis watches a 74-year-old great grandmother perform aerial acrobatics at the top of a swaying 110-foot pole. A troubled young man tries to end his father’s verbal harassment by successfully hunting a polar bear. Desperate to find a full-time job, a pizza deliveryman is fooled into a humiliating sexual demonstration by a couple at a Midway Motor Lodge. And in the title story, a flavor engineer at Frito-Lay tries to win his boss’s heart with his strategy to reposition Doritos
from snack food to main course.
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“Andy Mozina is a magician. I can’t think of a species of masculine folly – whether guilty rebellion, or panicky narcissism, or dependency disguised as tyranny, or anomie passing as glib enthusiasm for new lines of an employer’s tortilla chips – whose vocabulary and broken inner self Andy Mozina has not deftly conjured up for this collection. And he is as funny as he is wise.”
– Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award-winning author of “Lord of Misrule”
“Andy Mozina’s dark comic Midwestern genius thrills and troubles me, and I want more of it. Each of these stories is a philosophical puzzle, and each is a strange adventure to the foreign land that is another person’s mind. Through his plainspoken narrators, Mozina takes us farther than we meant to go – to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, to Elvis’s bedroom, to the terrible confusion at the heart of every human relationship. I love this collection.”
– Bonnie Jo Campbell, bestselling author of “Once Upon a River” and National Book Award finalist for “American Salvage”
“Andy Mozina’s ‘Quality Snacks’ is a collection of sad Rust Belt love songs. He maps a territory of dispirited office workers and aging small town beauties, all of them already beaten, always on the verge of worse. Echoes of Vonnegut, Borges, Cheever, and Saunders converge in these strip mall parking lots, in these dimly lit motels. Mozina asserts himself here as the fabulist poet of the Great Lakes working stiff.”
– Tony D’Souza, author of “Whiteman” and “Mule”
Question and Answer:
Of all the stories in “Quality Snacks,” which one is the most personal to you? Or is choosing one short story sort of like choosing a favorite child?
“Self-Reliance” is probably the most personal because it’s about the need to accept the most embarrassing aspects of yourself. The story’s pizza delivery man takes mortification to an awe-inspiring level, and I can relate to that. Plus I used to work at a pizza shop, which makes this one border on abject autobiography.
How is “Quality Snacks” different from your first short story collection, “The Women Were Leaving the Men?”
“The Women Were Leaving the Men” is all about sex and intimacy, and “Quality Snacks” is mostly about sex and also about marriage and taking wild risks to change your life.
Is it true that you started some of the stories in “Quality Snacks” more than 20 years ago? Which ones, and how did they evolve over time?
“Overpass” began in 1989. At this point, I experience it in my mind as a memory from my own life. I knew how it would end when I started it, but it took me a long time to imagine the protagonist’s life and family relationships on the day the story takes place. “Pelvis” started with an anecdote Dennis Hopper told about Elvis on Late Night with David Letterman. The arc of the story and a lot of the narrator’s voice came quickly, but fine tuning her language took a while.
How did your experience as a hospice volunteer shape “Dogs I Have Known,” one of the stories in “Quality Snacks?”
It made me think about altruism and how complicated the relationship is between a supposed helper and a helpee, especially when the helper brings some fear and emotional reticence to the situation. That ended up being a big theme in “Dogs I Have Known.”
So, we have to ask: What’s your favorite snack food?
If there were no health consequences, I would eat taco-flavored Doritos for all of my calories. But in fact, I hardly ever eat Doritos any more—except sometimes when other people buy them. Now I make a custom trail mix that I pack into two-ounce baggies. I’ve evolved.
Author Links below:
First Chapter Review:
This review is for the first chapter only of QUALITY SNACKS by Andrew Mozina, Dogs I Have Known.
I really loved the opening of the story:
THE DOG I HAVE NEVER OWNED
It is said that dogs are good. People with dogs live longer, are happier, and are less likely to have their homes burglarized. I have never owned a dog. This is in part because I am afraid of them, but also because I do not want to take care of an animal. My daughter would love a dog, but I will never buy her one. So I guess you know what kind of person I am.
What can you say to that?
I am someone who loves to write with anecdotes and descriptive wording, and that is what Andy Mozina does: “Gutters sag, downspouts dangle, shingles grow moss. Inside are staircases with hairpin curves, dining rooms with old built-ins, upstairs bedrooms with slanted ceilings, tiny closets shaped like mathematics problems.” The writing brings you into the story and into your surroundings. I really enjoyed the words in the story.
I have two dogs. Big dogs. Eighty pound dogs. West German Shepherds. And I couldn’t have picked a better chapter to read. What did I find in the first part of the story? A German Shepherd! And, of course the shepherd is doing what they do best – protecting their family. For some reason, this dog has decided it doesn’t like the protagonist and he’s afraid of dogs; a lethal combination. The story is quite funny and I really enjoyed the part where the dog owners (where a dinner is being held) had decided to saw down the dining room table’s legs because they enjoy eating while sitting on cushions on the floor – and, it doesn’t take Brian long to realize he has plate full of meat and potatoes and gravy and it is the perfect height for the dog to also enjoy. I could sympathize with poor Brian, because if my dogs weren’t mine, I admit they would probably be very intimidating (so I’ve been told.)
Overall, I really enjoyed the author’s writing. It was funny and well written. If the rest of the book follows the first chapter (and I just may peak) I definitely recommend the book. I like that the stories are a nice length for a casual sit down read which allows the reader to stop and start at their leisure. I’m giving QUALITY SNACKS five stars.
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