256 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $15.95
ISBN: 9781934137444


ISBN: 9781934137499

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“My favorite collection of short stories in recent memory.”

Nancy Pearl, NPR Morning Edition

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“Profound… with more to say on the human condition than most full books. …A remarkable collection, with pitch-perfect leaps of imagination.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

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“Horvath doesn’t just tell a story, he gives readers a window into the hearts, minds and souls of his characters.”

Concord Monitor

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“This stunning collection revels in wordplay and inventiveness, and is one of the finest short fiction collections I have read all year.”

Largehearted Boy

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“Gets at the heart of our contemporary zeitgeist . . . Echoing the intricate metaphysical labyrinths of Borges, the philosophizing literary absurdity of David Foster Wallace, and the American-styled magical realism of Lethem, [Understories] is a deeply reflective, highly imaginative work.”

Tottenville Review

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“This is transformative prose at its best…. If you want an actual contemporary wordsmith who does not just tinker but thrives in the micro-worlds of Calvino and Borges, Walser and Perec, read Understories.

HTML Giant

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“Touching and captivating . . . though I may have come to Understories for the weirdness, I stayed around for the quality of the writing and the emotions of the characters.”


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“Weird and wonderful. . . . But for all th[e] playfulness—sometimes intellectual, sometimes bawdy—Understories is no rarefied exercise. Horvath rallies all the senses, smell and touch and taste and the others, in support of his interrogation of the universe, and his work is firmly grounded in the real world no matter how fantastic his musings.”


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“As any great book, Understories confronts the making of fiction itself, intermittently directly confronting the mechanics of fabrication. . . . A major accomplishment by a major writer . . . full of writing as deeply aware of its antecedents as it is aware of the possibilities within, of, and about narrative.”

Big Other

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“This collection stand[s] out. There’s plenty of imagination [in Understories] but it’s rooted in recognizable and occasionally irrational emotions, a human quality that makes these stories endure. . . . Below the striking imagery, there’s abundant emotional depth to be found.”

Vol. 1 Brooklyn

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“A wild ride. [Understories] is a highly inventive short story collection that interweaves absurdity with a deep understanding of what makes people tick.”

Kenyon Review

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“Some books inspire, others seize. Understories seizes, shakes, then splits everything open.”


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“Horvath’s writing is so consistently fun, engaging, inventive, and imaginative while displaying such range between stories, that the reader will never grow bored.”

Small Press Book Review

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“Every echo, despite its resonance, is a kind of individual pocket. . . . As a fiction collection, then, Understories resonates not only on the stories as stories, but as an arrangement of individual parts. The buzz it gives off is the combined buzz of countless pockets, all charged with a life and surprise of their own.”


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“These stories are triumphs of the imagination.”

Fantasy Literature

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“With plenty of humor and a good dose of poignancy, Understories is an excellent assortment for those who want something that blends traditional and speculative fiction together well.”

Midwest Book Review

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“Philosophical, sometimes whimsical, darkly funny, thought provoking, intense, evocative.”


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“The big stories are magnificent—truly they are—but the little ones are gems as well; do not overlook the charming little bodegas and mom & pop shops while you are agape in wonder at the loftier architecture.”

A Just Recompense

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“Elegant . . . there is so much to appreciate in these intelligent and eloquently written, yet deceivingly understated stories.”

Books, Personally

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“Mightily fun . . . in turns vibrant and imaginative, eloquent and thoughtful, and lush and whimsical.”

Books Speak Volumes

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“Just enough off kilter to make one feel a touch dizzy. I loved this collection, and savored it over many months.”

Reading the Leaves

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“Horvath’s strength is absolutely concept: he imagines places and scenarios, and ‘what ifs’ himself into the most interesting premises.”

Brunette Bibliophile

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“Horvath knows how to write one kick-arse sentence after another.”

Bosco’s Going Down

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Understories is fueled by a wonderfully inventive mind, but ultimately, it is a mind in service to the heart. Horvath’s attention is always squarely on us: who we are, who we have been, and how a great story can transform us.”

Matt Bell, author of Cataclysm Baby

“Remarkable writing and remarkably rewarding reading: stories equally saturated in contemporary fact and transfactual acids. An atlas of canny and uncanny maps, mainly cityscapes, of the branching imagination and convoluted heart. Move over, Mercator and Google Earth: make way for Horvath’s haunting projections.”

Brian Boyd, author of Stalking Nabokov

“Tim Horvath is a fluid, inventive writer who deftly interweaves the palpably real and the pyrotechnically fantastic. At once playful, deeply moving, and sharply funny, Understories satisfies the mind, the heart, and the gut.”

Kate Christensen, author of The Astral and The Great Man

“Horvath seems to be channeling, all at once, Borges and Calvino and Kevin Brockmeier. And it all works.”

Rebecca Makkai, author of The Borrower

“‘The Understory’ is a terrific reach through history from the pre- and post- Nazi era in Germany up to the present. . . . This is a wonderful story, a first-rate creation by a fine writer.”

Bill Henderson, president and editor of Pushcart Press, in his judge’s statement for the Raymond Carver Short Story Award

“Tim Horvath is a wonderful writer. There’s a musicality to his prose. It’s evident that he enjoys the way words can sound on the page. His debut short story collection from Bellevue Literary Press reminds me a bit of Kevin Brockmeier, in the sense that both writers combine wordplay with speculative fiction.”

Michele Filgate, Community Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY) @ Vol. 1 Brooklyn

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“Horvath’s stories simultaneously stimulate the intellect while being fantastically imaginative. 
Contemporary urban life is examined through the looking glass, twisted slightly but still entirely recognizable and relatable. His images imprint, linger and the characters balance on the fine edge of what is real and what is imagined. This is memorable stuff.”

Stacie M. Williams, Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI)

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“To read Understories is to lose oneself on a spelunking expedition and stumble across a subterranean library sprouted from the Earth’s core. You’ll thank me for this one.”

Lydia, Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA)

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What if there were a city that consisted only of restaurants? What if Paul Gauguin had gone to Greenland instead of Tahiti? What if there were a field called Umbrology, the study of shadows, where physicists and shadow puppeteers worked side by side? Full of speculative daring though firmly anchored in the tradition of realism, Tim Horvath’s stories explore all of this and more— blending the everyday and the wondrous to contend with age-old themes of loss, identity, imagination, and the search for human connection. Whether making offhand references to Mystery Science Theater, providing a new perspective on Heidegger’s philosophy and forays into Nazism, or following the imaginary travels of a library book, Horvath’s writing is as entertaining as it is thought provoking.

New Hampshire Literary Award Winner

NPR Books Summer Reading Selection

New Hampshire Public Radio Summer Books Selection

Salon What to Read Awards

Largehearted Boy Favorite Short Story Collection of the Year

Late Night Library Battle of the Books Final Four

Understories has also been recognized as one of the best books of the year by Matt Bell, Michele Filgate (@ Vol. 1 Brooklyn), Okla Elliott (@ Heavy Feather Review)Jason Jordan, Jennifer SpiegelTerry Weyna (@ Reading the Leaves)and Amber Sparks (@ Big Other).


Excerpt from Understories

Urban Planning: Case Study Number Four

The life of an urban planner is at once both more and less exotic than it might appear.

Raedmeon—a city built by committee, riding in on slow, lumbering beasts of burden, Weston a Committee Man if ever there was one. Among his secret joys is the way the dry cleaner folds and boxes his shirts, the new-map sensation of the creases cascading over his shoulders and chest each morning. He likes that he knows what the competing interests in the room are at any given moment: Camilla Barber’s predictable cooing about “sustainability,” Martinez’s operatic enthusiasm for x, y, or z, swelling with his Adam’s apple in the hour before lunch, then retreating into an afternoon of spent indifference.

Each night, the ancient elevator hoists Weston up to the sparse apartment where he finds himself amidst light and shadows, a furnace that talks him through the night in Hephaestian tongues. A cot does for him; he is not impervious to the image of himself sunken in four-poster opulence in a spread of red paisley satin, maybe backed in goosefeather, but recognizes the chances of this are remote. Sleep may be luxury and indulgence for some out there, those in the elegant apartments his eye falls on beyond his sill with its gouges and blackened wicks. For him, sleep is as crude and functional as fuel. It catalyzes him for eight hours of sifting through statistics, rendering diagrams and schematics, the endlessly rigorous and recursive tasks of engineering a veritable universe packed into fourteen point eight two four nine six (he can go on) square miles.

A pragmatist! Very well, then, let them think it, though in reality it is no exaggeration to say that his “plans”—if one is to call them that—derive wholly from the dream-life that runs riot across the proscenium of his skull. If he were to reveal this, it would be dismissed at first, then, if he insisted, treated with suspicion, and finally he would be dismissed. It’s not as if he proposes Raedmeon as surreal playground—dripping, oozing plazas, grids with walkways and staircases spiraling up to their own nadirs, reservoirs that digest locals and belch the remains of the sun by dusk. Who, though, could possibly understand the way the orderliness he harnesses and maintains has its origins in his dream life? Least of all his colleagues, drab bureaucrats to a man (and Camilla Barber).

When and how did he come to be The Bread Machine? At the holiday party one year someone arrived with a fresh-made loaf and they were all talking about it. Next thing you know he’s spittle-lip drunk and someone’s magic-markered some manufacturer’s name in the ample region between his hairline and the eyebrows that he raises, by habit, in lieu of his voice. The moniker’s no accident, though, never was—it’s too perfect an analogy for how he operates, and he dons it with pride. So into the Machine go the problems that beleaguer any self-respecting city: overcrowding, crumbling infrastructure, de facto segregation, inadequate power grids on nights of anomalous heat or cold, the bombardment of pollutions ocular and aural, the endless teeter between the chorus of the old and the sirenry of the new. Out come Proposals. Solutions.

(or leastways Disasters Narrowly Averted).

Into the Machine, too, go daydreams, the yearnings and desires of the 46-year-old eccentric loner whose lunch hours are spent browsing in the most unlikely locations—pawnshops, restaurant supply stores, sequin-manufacturing concerns. He will not join them in the company cafeteria midway up the black cylinder they relocated to a couple of years ago, despite its panoramic views of the city. He needs to move in Raedmeon’s streets, to sniff out the sources of its pumpernickel, needs to see if its homeless veterans have updated their cardboard pleas or of late changed their bandages. In taking all of this in, he’s no saint, no deliverer of alms or answers; he is merely feeding the dreams that provide him with, for lack of a better word, his Ideas. After work he’ll walk home through microcosmic cities of sheet-vinyl and salvage just across from the abandoned tanneries, all the while chewing on the pumpernickel loaf he bought earlier. The Bread Machine, indeed.

What none of them knows about is the pinch of yeast that goes into the Machine: 450 mg. of Evanescet, sleeping medication not yet available to the general public, still in Experimental Trial Phase 3.3. No rat fatalities or illness beyond the usual side effects—involuntary twitching of the whiskers, diminished proprioception. At staggering doses only, catastrophic kidney malfunction. In order to swallow such doses proportionate to his own body size, Weston’s guy in the pharmaceutical industry assures him, he would have to slug pills all day long, quite literally alternating with coffee sips for hours on end. It would be virtually impossible to consume enough, his friend insists, to induce kidney problems even if, let’s say for some reason, he wanted kidney problems. Let’s just say you wanted kidney problems—he likes the way the guy says it, smirky but winning, traits he doesn’t see enough of at Urban Planning.

(He tried imitating this friend for a day but it fell flat, and it was pointed out that something he said verged on harassment, so he dropped that tack at once).

Weston, stooped-over, sloped with patience, a gift for waiting over the vast, cosmic sprawl of time his job demands, a knack for knowing and abiding by every procedure, doing everything fairly, hearing out all contractors and bidders, checking off all the boxes, refraining from jumping in until he’s heard all parties speak, Weston will not, damnit, sit around and wait for the government to approve Evanescet for common, everyday use. He needs the stuff now, needs the way it makes him swim through nights like a glowing set of eyes, springs him sated from the cot at daybreak. He loves the galvanic vigor that lingers in him on the bus as it wends its way downtown through the Raedmeon he’s helped make block by block. He’s tried other means of inducing sleep—drugs of the government-sanctioned variety, herbal blends, witches’ incantations. Nothing comes close, and so far as he can tell his kidneys are stalwart as bighorn sheep.

On the bus this morning, he notes the tree-lined medians and open-air market, the vistas opened up by demolition and then the reassuring density of new construction encased in the fragile, spindly promise of scaffolding. Weston wants to cry out “O’ Evanescet!” like it’s some lover whose hips are enmeshed with his own, wants to sing the praise of this muse with a bard-like fervor. But he wills himself silent, yoking deep-diaphragm breaths to images of retirement, a mere eight years away. They’ll send him off with a gold-plated Bread Machine; of that he has no doubt. By then, Evanescet will be procurable in patch or chewing gum, either that or banned utterly but available at the right price, scored in a dark alley in needle form. Note to self: preserve a handful of dark alleys. His upper lip twitches while he worries the pill-crumbs in the inner lining of his coat pocket with his fingers, relishing the thought of devoting himself fully at last to the Raedmeon he’s been quietly constructing all along, one which would never appoint a committee, where the streets are lined with luminous balustrades, and planning means nothing other than dancing in the pineapple rotundas of an untranslatable night.

Listen to librarian extraordinaire and “NPR’s go-to books guru” Nancy Pearl discuss Understories with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition and with Steve Scher on KUOW’s The Record; and watch her describe how her “favorite collection of short stories in recent memory” is part of a new tradition of “elastic realism” in contemporary literature.

A cause for celebration… Tim Horvath’s first collection of short fiction, Understories, has received the New Hampshire Literary Award for Outstanding Fiction!

Listen in on a very fun conversation with Tim Horvath and Brad Listi on the Other People podcast. Topics include their Midwestern childhood, bridge climbing in New York, the birthday they both share with Herman Melville, Dom DeLuise, and Jerry Garcia, and Tim’s “red hot” Understories.

Tim Horvath discusses Understories with the Boston Globe, Bloom, and The Nervous Breakdownmuses on his inspirations at TSP: The official blog of The Story Prize; explains his offbeat research for the collection at Necessary Fictionanswers questions at Monkeybicycleoffers reading recommendations at The Short Formcontributes a guest post for Robert Lopez’ “No News Today” series; and talks to The Philadelphia Review of Book’s Andrew Ervin in a three way conversation with Gabriel Blackwell and Jensen Beach (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

Visit Storyville to download a selection from Understories and read Tim Horvath’s story about its inception.

Read a story from Understories and an interview with Tim Horvath about its origin at The Collagist.

Read more interviews with Tim Horvath about the art of teaching and writing in The Hippo and at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts website.