Winner: Prince Edward Island Book Award for Fiction
Spare, but warm and quietly elegant, Fatted Calf Blues uses metaphor, simile, and imagery to leave a lasting impression on the reader.
In “Forgiveness,” an encounter with a hawk on a beach causes a suicidal man to reflect on forgiveness versus the weight of the stones in his pockets. In “New Glasgow Kiss,” an ex-con flies across the ocean in the hope of reconciling with his estranged daughter. In “The Bridge by Moonlight,” a woman mourns her dead son and struggles to understand the depth of her daughter-in-law’s grief.
Many of the stories in Fatted Calf Blues have appeared in literary journals including Front’N’Centre, the Windsor Review, The Dublin Quarterly, Filling Station, Pottersfield Portfolio and Grain Magazine.
"These are not stories linked by plot or character or place, but rather by something deeper, something more difficult to see; something down there, germinating."
- The Malahat Review
“The characters of Fatted Calf Bluesresonate long after the stories are over: a man in a streetcar proclaiming his genius, a couple who question one another after a love note is found taped to their door, a man at a truck stop who keeps a dream diary. They’re curious, funny, wistful; we’re sure we’ve met them somewhere before. With energy and wit, Mayoff shows us all that is familiar, and then tilts the world so it becomes surprising and strange. These are stories to relish—sink your teeth into this book.”
“Seasoned and edgy, these stories straddle the shifting gap between the real and the surreal, the magical and the grotesque. They carve out a sparkling niche of light from the shadows of their characters’ longings and culpability, and are guaranteed to test and celebrate the reader’s footing! Steven Mayoff’s ear for dialogue and eye for quirky detail make Fatted Calf Blues a startling debut.”
“Fatted Calf Blues is chock full of potent short fiction that bores straight into the often cold heart of the contemporary human condition. Steven Mayoff is a courageous writer, blending humour, despair, loss, violence, and minor epiphany in his vivid and vital narratives.”
Suggested Book Club Questions for Fatted Calf Blues
- In "The Most Important Man in the World" how does environment contribute to the extreme actions of the streetcar passengers?
- The narrator leaves his safe and comfortable seat to save the man who is being beaten up by the passengers. So why does he suddenly join the others in attacking the man?
- In "The Darkened Door" what do Roy and Kendra’s reactions to the note say about them individually and about their relationship to each other?
- The note serves as a wake-up call to the problems in Roy and Kendra’s relationship and ultimately tears them apart. Was this inevitable? Could the relationship have been saved?
- In "Danger in the Summer Moon Above" what are the dynamics of the boys’ friendship? How are these manifested in the action?
- How does the image of the bucket simplify and complicate the narrator’s experience of the grief of losing his mother and his burgeoning sexuality?
- In "The Animal Room" the narrator has had problems in the past dealing with how certain animals – such as dogs or cattle - are treated in labs. He has no such problems now that he takes care of rats, because he considers them vermin, thus allowing him to be more efficient in carrying out his duties. What does this say about his attitude towards his work?
- When Annie Cornflowers tries to convince the narrator to set the rats free he is appalled because it goes against what he was hired to do, not to mention his sense of order. But are there any indications in the story that he might secretly want to set them free? If so, where and why?
- In "Home," James how does the repetition of certain details actually push the story forward?
- What part does humor play in the nightmarish tone of the story?
- In "Forgiveness" it is clear that Carl has come to the beach with the intention of killing himself. But the ending remains unresolved. Has Carl changed his mind? If so, where in the story does this happen and why?
- How does landscape play a part in the narrative?
- In "Smoke And Mirrors" Ruby is a struggling actress who finds herself working in a strip club. How does her attitude toward her situation help her? How does it work against her?
- Is Ruby an idealist? A realist? A fatalist? Any combination thereof? How do her actions exhibit any or all of these qualities?
- In "The Bridge By Moonlight" Elva Peart enjoys her view of the Confederation Bridge, especially at night when it is lit up. But it also is a constant reminder of the death of her son. How does this contribute to her general state of mind and to her relationships with daughter-in-law, Trace, and grandson, Rennie?
- With whom do you sympathize most: Elva,Trace or Rennie? With whom do you sympathize least?
- In "The Two Annes" what is Samson Grief trying to express in his drawing of the two girls?
- Near the end of the story he asks, “Where can any of us go?” What does he mean and how does this question relate to his situation?
- In "New Glasgow Kis"s ex-con Gregor MacEwan hopes to redeem himself by patching things up with his estranged daughter, Rena. In what ways does their complicated relationship offer him hope? Or is it entirely hopeless?
- Even though he has no use for books, Gregor found solace in Kafka’s story Metamorphosis while in prison. He was even able to give the insect image a practical application in serving his sentence by adopting the self-preservation of a cockroach. How does this help and/or hinder his efforts to turn his life around in the outside world?
- In "Phone Booth" the narrator is stalking his ex-girlfriend. Even though he seems like someone we would not want to know, is there anything sympathetic about him? Can you relate to him in any way?
- What does the symbol of the phone booth say about the narrator’s ability or inability to communicate. Or about communication in general?
- In "Elephant Rock" how does the natural world express the vagaries of growing up?
- What images personify the theme of cultural displacement and/or acceptance?
- In "The Same Machine" the clash between hedonism and mortality provides much of the story’s conflict. Which one does Del represent? Which one does Petey represent? Are there any instances when they switch?
- Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” How do the characters’ words and actions personify this? When do they contradict it?
- Could "Fatted Calf Blues" be described as a modern myth? Are the characters archetypes? If so, how? If not, why?
- What function do the Biblical quotes serve in the overall narrative?
- Images and instances of motion and stillness abound. How do they contribute to the overall rhythm of the story?
- Mavis Jean can be tough as nails, but she also shows signs of vulnerability. How do these facets of her personality help or hinder her quest to redeem herself for running out on her daddy?
- Are there any instances when Vesta and Two-Gun Billy’s complicated relationship of resentment and dependence is mirrored by Mavis Jean and Milo?
- Milo can be seen as an innocent and also as an old soul. In what instances is he one or the other? Does he ever display both qualities at the same time?
- Throughout the collection the author moves between urban and rural settings. How important are these to their respective stories? Is there an instance where a rural story could be placed in an urban setting or vice versa?
- How important is place to the author? Are there any instances where place could be described as being a character in a story?
- How well does the author depict gender? Are male and female characters interchangeable or do they retain the distinct qualities of their sexes?
- Are there any common themes that run throughout the collection? What else unites these stories?
- Does the order of the stories create a cohesiveness?
Steven Mayoff was born and raised in Montreal, lived in Toronto for 17 years and has made Prince Edward Island his home since 2001. His fiction and poetry have appeared in journals across Canada and the USA, as well as in Ireland, Algeria and France. Fatted Calf Blues, was praised by the Globe & Mail as showing “a strong imagination at work.” It won the 2010 PEI Book Award for Fiction and was short-listed for a 2010 ReLit Award and was a Top 5 Finalist in the 2011 CBC Cross-Country Bookshelf.