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Pinning down Chris Offutt, and singing yet another ode to Missoula

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Chris Offutt, the novelist and one-time lingerer in Missoula’s literary scene, has long been a friend of the Independent. And it’s with sincere regard for him that we have to tell you that he’s one of the slipperiest characters we’ve ever known. Just when you think you have him pinned down, figured out, he squirts out from under your thumb like a watermelon seed, and good luck finding him again.

Anyone who knows him can understand. He tries to pass himself off as a hick, but he’s usually the smartest guy in the room. He disavows having any kind of intellect, but his résumé is littered with graduate accolades and East Coast fellowships. He has lived the life of a desert renegade in New Mexico, a mountain man in Montana, and currently, a gentleman writer in Iowa. But now, it seems that Offutt is becoming once again what we was in the beginning—a Southerner. This month, Algonquin Press will release it, New Stories from the South, a collection of the best short stories to come from Dixie in recent days, and among them is Offutt’s familiar, down-home scrawl.

The Best Friend is a three-page rabbit punch of a story, about, of all things, a girl and a dog. It is three pages shot through with short sentences, the threat of death, and the slim possibility of redemption. It is an excerpt from Offutt’s current project, Shenandoah, a novel about a woman who lives in the hills of eastern Kentucky, where the author himself is from. It is beautiful.

Chris Offutt, for now, is teaching at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. New Stories from the South goes on sale this week.
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Missoula doesn’t want for people writing about it; in fact, singing town-proud odes to our fair city in glossy national mags has become something of a cottage industry in these parts. We all know the drill. Sometimes it’s kind of embarrassing to read about this Missoula, lovingly rendered in rustic sepia for general consumption. By the same token, travel guides never seem to capture the flavor and always seem to skimp on the homey stuff that Missoulians love to read about themselves and their city.

Feast or famine! It leaves you craving the happy medium: someone who’s going to stay long enough to do the place painterly justice but not so long that he fancies himself an expert. Someone like Gabino Travassos, editor of the Canadian music zine Mote, who came to Missoula over the long weekend of July 4 to follow up on the first impressions he gathered on a brief pass through town a few Christmases ago.

Gabino’s findings, which can be read in the most recent issue of Mote, come mostly in the form of an extended travelogue and interviews with bands (the Oblio Joes) and assorted Missoula nabobs like Inner Muscle editor/Wäntage Records head Josh Vanek and the Independent’s own entertainment factotum/village idiot Andy Smetanka. Our northern cousin was also gracious enough to mail several hundred copies of the “Missoula issue” to the Indy offices. Interested parties can pick one up here or at Ear Candy Records.

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