$19.99, 202p, Isbn 9781948509022
“In Coming Clean, Betty Moffett pays homage to the power of storytelling, revealing the glimmer and grit that ripple beneath the stoic exterior of rural America. In prose that’s as clean and inviting as a fresh-swept porch, Moffett lovingly chronicles the heart-swells and heartaches that make up a life well lived.”-—Dean Bakopoulos, author of Summerlong
“I admire the charming, sometimes mischievous, restraint of the stories in Coming Clean. By holding back, they reveal life’s mysteries all the more, and they pay homage to the laconic dignity of the people Betty Moffett writes about. The final story called ‘Brothers’ will break your heart in the best possible way.” — Ralph James Savarese, author of Reasonable People and See It Feelingly
“Coming Clean is a jewel box of a book: sparkling stories crafted by an artisan – some poignant, some funny, every one wise and word-smart – that span three generations of a quirky American family. Each story is graced by evanescent small beauties that make it as tactile as a kiss.”--David Campbell, Henry R. Luce Professor of Nations and the Global Environment, author, The Crystal Desert; The Ephemeral Islands, Islands in Time and Space; A Land of Ghosts
“Whether telling about small town mysteries, grade school epiphanies, or adolescent heart throbs, Betty Moffett’s stories will enfold you in colorful fabrics woven of curiosity, emotion, exploration, and love. Some of the fabrics are rent, as families and communities can be, giving us glimpses of profound truths. These stories feel right, as only a gifted story teller can fashion them.”–Jonathan Andelson, Professor and Director, Center for Prairie Studies, Grinnell College
“Betty Moffett’s wisdom advances on noiseless footsteps to delight the receiver, like the gift of a pine-cone in one of her stories. An acute observer of public follies and near-invisible triumphs, a gifted teller who shapes her tales with that rare craft that appears effortless, Moffett gives us a world of illuminated yet unsparing memory. The stories in Coming Clean circle back to dramatic moments re-told by a family down the generations, letting us see into their lives each time anew.”–Paula V. Smith, author, The Painter’s Muse
“Betty Moffett represents what can be done by an author who brings great skill in fiction writing to the task of a memoir, giving memoir the sweet organization of fiction and fiction the authority of a lived truth. The Moffett we encounter in these works is both embedded in the cultures she describes and yet detached enough to see them as they are. As such, her view is realistic and unsparing, but also benevolent. The writing is pellucid and completely unpretentious. Moffett becomes a welcome partner from the first word on and we, turning the pages as fast as they permit, become her captives. This is a superb book that will enchant its every reader.”–Michael Cavanagh, Orville and Mary Patterson Routt Professor of Literature, author of Professing Poetry: Seamus Heaney’s Poetics
“Betty Moffett convinces me that here we have a writer able to chronicle an interesting and productive life and to do so masterfully. I know that now I am appreciating the South of her youth and earlier adulthood to a greater degree, and although I’ve always lived in the Midwest, these accounts tune me in to some of the character types, rural landscapes and the small town life that we can easily take for granted.”–Tim Fay, Wapsipinicon Almanac
“With an easy grace, a ready wit, and an eye that misses nothing, Betty Moffett gives us stories that feel true to the lives they depict, true to each narrative moment. Time and again she turns just the right phrase, lands on the perfect word. Sometimes funny, sometimes wise, and sometimes both at once, the stories in Coming Clean linger in the mind as welcome company.—Bryan Crockett, author, Love’s Alchemy
Description: Very early in my life I learned to love the stories I heard on my grandmother’s screen porch. Soon after, an intense love affair with Black Beauty taught me the power of stories to transform and transport. All my life, when someone says, “Let me tell you a story,” I have known I will soon learn more about that person than the most thorough recounting of historic detail could ever reveal—and I will have more fun on the way. I offer you these stories—about what growing up meant to four different generations; about neighbors, horses, prejudice, sweethearts, students; about moving, marriage, grandchildren and dogs. I hope they remind you of your own stories. I wish I could hear them.
Betty Moffett was born, reared, educated, and married in North Carolina. After four years of teaching high school English and two dramatic years working with the Asolo Theatre in Florida, she, her husband Sandy, and their young son Ruben moved to Grinnell, Iowa, where they planned to stay a year and then return to the sweet sunny South. But they liked the old farm house they fixed up, riding horses in the prairie, teaching at Grinnell College, and playing with the Too Many String Band. Almost five decades later, they’re still in Grinnell and glad of it. Betty taught for nearly thirty years in the college’s Writing Lab and then began using the advice she offered to her students in her own work. Her stories have appeared in various magazines and journals.
Review by Joe S. Feldman is an award-winning stage director and playwright who lives in Corrales, New Mexico.
In her luminous collection of short stories, “Coming Clean”, Betty Moffett backs up that claim, and then some. With resolute honesty and a deliciously wicked wit, Moffett widely opens her heart, family history and beloved North Carolina and Iowa to our observation. She is selective in the strands and strains of rural life she spotlights. These from a time and place now receding at a rapid clip, but still lovingly buoyed by certain scholars, storytellers, musicians and dreamers, all persons and qualities present in the author and her stories.
Moffett keeps us on our toes. Expect not just a large dose of the unexpected, also look out for the unseen, the unknown, and the unspooling of seldom noticed details that often steer the most fateful decisions. In “Coming Clean” a single seemingly insignificant act may lead directly to paradise or doom. It’s a fraught landscape where critical choices are made, unmade, and never made. Against this backdrop, Moffett conjures a marvelously effective indirectness in her writing. She aims a light not right at her subjects, but nearby, which almost magically stirs up both mystery and understanding from the resulting shadows.
Moffett is also blessed (and passes that blessing to us) with an abiding reverence for eccentrics of every age and stripe, and many movingly appear in “Coming Clean”. One favorite, Toby, from The Family, is the taciturn patriarch of a seemingly ever-expanding family of endearing Iowa oddballs. Moffett describes him as “an old man in overalls, who had a stoop, a straw hat, no top teeth, and huge hands.” A man “long on loyalty, short on sentimentality”, and taken aback upon hearing that Moffett’s sister-in-law is getting remarried. “ ‘Huh’ said Toby, and there was a world of opinion in that syllable.” “Coming Clean” is rich in such prose haiku, where characters are distilled to their essence in just a few strokes.
“Coming Clean” is at root a memoir. It is also a network of related stories that details Moffett’s passion for people and language, and highlights the finely honed skills she employs to explain and connect each to the other. She is a probing, sometimes skittish witness to the events therein depicted as the chapters of her life unfold. From girl to young woman to teacher, wife, mother and grandmother, she dissects the joys and perils of family, tradition, pride and honor; deep rivers that run with a particular vibrancy through the souls of country folk, herself included. She is an unshrinking guide to these lands, and very much aware of their power to bestow grace or destruction. Sometimes both.
“Coming Clean” is an exceedingly fine collection by a writer of great depth, insight and tenderness. One suggestion: please read the book slowly, as in one story a day. Better, the same story every day for several days. They ripen wonderfully.
Review by Jon Kelly Yenser, author, THE DISAMBIGUATION OF KATYDIDS and WALTER’S YARD.
Betty Moffett’s Coming Clean is a collection of 19 vibrant stories, quiet and surprising and humorous by turns.
She is a story-teller from way back and she says that many of the accounts here are those she heard as a child. She heard a lot of good stories and these stories cover a lot of ground—from tobacco country in North Carolina, to the prairie in Iowa, to a sort of dude ranch in Wyoming. But she did not just “hear” all of these tales and many involve more than her family. In fact the stories take place over a period of four decades.
The settings are generally rural and the characters, “regular” people, working class people who farm or teach school or cut hair. One especially interesting figure is a cowboy, made from the whole cloth of his reading of western novels. Another character is a corpulent riding instructor who once performed in the center ring of a circus, who will not speak to the retired clown who now teaches trapeze in the same town. There are plenty of animals, too, with personalities, most often horses and dogs.
The main events are various, too, of course: a quirky séance generates a ghost story; a schoolyard bully rescues his pocket knife from the depths of the bosom of his teacher; a newly-wed who wants to impress his in-laws instead shoots a hole in the wall of their brand-new house; two teen-age girls go off to a dance that becomes painful and precarious.
Problems arise everywhere. Most get sorted out. Some are simply accepted, absorbed.
What holds these stories together, what makes this collection cohere, is the artful, accomplished voice of the speaker. She’s knows what makes for a good story. Exactly where any story comes from may not matter all that much. Almost certainly Moffett wrote some down as she remembered; as certainly she altered them, amended them, dressed them up and put them on this stage for our entertainment.
She knows that we want the answer to the most essential question posed by any good story:
“Yes, yes….but what happens next?”
Other particular questions follow:
“Did that horse really pull that car out of the ditch?”
“Your aunt said what again?”
“Do you mean to tell me that…”
Yes, Moffett means to tell you that. And more.
These are durable stories. They wear well. We can hear them again and again.
Review by Frank Heath:, author, They Furnished Good Music and Practicing Mandolin in the Bathtub
Betty Moffett’s stories in COMING CLEAN move across the southern landscape like music on a summer evening, music with chords of remembrance without regret,
understanding without censure, love without bounds.
But it’s not all sweetness and light. Every summer evening darkens and so do some memories. Life is like that and these are life-true stories. A neighbor kids’ spat that burns and turns serious, a pocket knife lost and found and lost again, a classroom poem with the meaning all too clear, a passel of men willing to sacrifice a boy’s future to their misguided aspirations…all tales etched so deeply they can never be forgotten nor completely forgiven.
Still, Moffett tells of a community with every right to be severely critical, to withhold forgiveness and yet it doesn’t. They just know it’s better that way. An accidental rifle shot bodes disaster but brings acceptance. Amateur actors learn an important and relatively painless lesson. And a Buick is rescued from a ditch, rescued mostly by pride.
At this point, may as well bring in the horses. They’ve been there, patiently waiting to move the stories along, to faithfully perform their duties. Moffett, it’s clear, has an affinity for horses, though ‘affinity’ is too mild a word.
These are Southern stories. They could come from nowhere else. Some Iowans do wander in, but they may have moved up north. That the stories are very well written is obvious. That they are believable is a nice bonus, though that celery episode strains the bounds.