The Mutual UFO Network
Published by: Dzanc Books
Release Date: June 12, 2018
In The Mutual UFO Network, Pulitzer Prize finalist and master of the craft Lee Martin presents his first short story collection since his acclaimed debut The Least You Need to Know. With Martin's signature insight, each story peers into the nooks and crannies of seemingly normal homes, communities, and families. The footprints of a midnight prowler peel back the veneer of a marriage soured by a long-ago affair. A con man selling faked UFO footage loses his wife to the promise of life outside the ordinary. And a troubled man, tormented by his own mind, lies in the street to look at the stars, and in doing so unravels the carefully constructed boundaries between his quiet neighbors.
From friendship and family to all forms of love, The Mutual UFO Network explores the intricacies of relationships and the possibility for redemption in even the most complex misfits and loners.
“Martin cleverly exposes the fractures between husbands and wives, family and friends, in these twelve excellent stories of people lying to themselves because the truth is too painful to admit...a vivid, emotionally precise collection.”
“Quiet traumas and long-festering emotional wounds abound in this collection...With precise storytelling, Martin chronicles the unrest in his characters' lives and the shocking moments when tensions reach their breaking points.”
"Martin has written a not-to-be-missed masterwork of slow-burning emotions."
—Booklist starred review
"A superb story collection that brims with tragedy and compassion."
—Shelf Awareness starred review
"With no irony or judgment, Martin peers into the lives of ordinary families and communities, and shines a light on the secrets that we all keep too deep in our hearts to ever speak them...a solid and satisfying short-story collection that pays homage to all facets and stages of life, the light and the dark, the bitter and the sweet."
"We know these characters, distant literary cousins of the lonely men and women brought to life by Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, and Richard Ford. ... Martin's in full control of both the rhythm and blues in each story. He is the craftsman, the master architect, and those skills and Martin's adherence to his primary mission -- to tell a story worth telling -- are what make this collection so thrilling."
"Martin favors the wanderers―those navigating the untidy shambles of lost love, of families cracked and broken apart, of past and present sins. The collection contemplates galactic questions of life and death as easily as it telescopes into the most intimate and regular sorrows of humanity."
"The Mutual UFO Network explores the complexity of human relationships, which is as terrifying, strange, and incomprehensible as any extraterrestrial lifeform....Martin’s stories are not a quick-to-the-point affair; they are like his prose: long, savory, complex affairs that are meant to evoke as much joy as empathy. The takeaway is that location does not thwart misfortune, that people who two-step are as relatable as those who floss. We are all human."
—The Coachella Review
The trouble started that winter when I went out at night and hid myself close to windows—crouched down behind shrubbery or heat pumps— so I could watch our neighbors in the warm light of their homes.
I never saw anything that they would have been ashamed for me to see. I can honestly say that: no quarrels, no lovemaking, no quirky habits. I told them that later, when I went from door to door, confessing what I’d done and explaining how I’d meant no harm or insult. I’d only wanted to be close to them. But, of course, by then, it didn’t matter what I said. I was criminal.
Mostly I saw them watching TV, eating sandwiches at the kitchen counter, rinsing dishes in the sink. Mrs. Poe liked to crochet. Miss Nance read the evening newspaper. Mr. Dean built model airplanes. Miss Stevens marked her students’ lessons and ornamented them with bright stickers or gold stars.
Mr. Laskey was my favorite. He cooked. I watched him in his kitchen, a long white apron tied around his neck. Even outside, I could smell oregano and tomato sauce, cinnamon and nutmeg. Or at least I convinced myself I could, eager as I was to breathe in the scents, take in the sights of settled, honest living.
In my own home, my parents operated a mail-order business called The Mutual UFO Network. My father transferred computer-generated images to videotape and created illusions of spaceships streaking across the night sky. He took out ads in magazines and sold his videotapes to customers around the world who wanted proof that what they’d suspected all along was indeed true: there were visitors from other planets, and they were watching us.
“We help people see what they want to see,” my father told me once. “What’s the harm in that?”
“It’s a hoax,” I told him.
“Hoax, schmoax,” he said. “It’s commerce.”
Then the unexpected happened. My mother began to wonder whether it might be true that we weren’t alone in the universe.
“All these people,” she said, waving a sheaf of order forms. “It’s something to think about.”
She’d read about a laboratory in Phoenix that, since the late seventies, had been testing photographs and videotapes to see if they were hoaxes, natural phenomena, or something unexplainable. Nearly three hundred fell into the last category, the mysterious and the possible, and suddenly that was enough for my mother. My father’s trickery, his blips of light across the screen, had already seduced her.
“Lunatics,” he said. “Good god, Lib.”
“I suppose that’s what you’d think about me if I ever came home and told you I’d seen a spaceship.”
“Let’s be reasonable,” my father told her.
But my mother just arched an eyebrow and stared at him, and I began to wonder what would happen if someone you thought you knew slipped away into another world. How far would love carry you if you wanted to follow? What if that person turned out to be you?