Author Andy Mozina’s latest collection of fifteen short stories, Quality Snacks, greets readers with a variety of well-written fare, a little something for every palate. These character-driven stories examine topics such as office power dynamics, irrational animal fears, elf genocide at the North Pole, Dorito and porn addiction, nonsexual affairs, and how to be a “woman of peace.” But this is just a sampling, a taste-testing stroll through the Costco warehouse of Mozina’s Quality Snacks.
As an author of the Made in Michigan Writer’s Series and an English Professor at Kalamazoo, Andy Mozina has developed a localized cult following that rivals that of Taco Doritos fans, but hasn’t quite reached Cool Ranch heights—yet. Recently during a book signing in Plainwell, Michigan, two fans came to blows over a cardboard cutout of Mozina. The cardboard Mozina was ripped in half, and police escorted the men out of the used bookstore. This was just one stop along the book tour for Quality Snacks.
Questionable behavior is a recurring theme in the pages of Quality Snacks as well. In “The Bad Reader,” two middle-aged male cohorts meet at a Dairy Queen to discuss a recent public shooting at a bookstore. One man, an overbearing high school coach, believes his nephew to be the shooter. The young nephew struggles to understand a world he “cannot see,” while taking his cues on social behavior from fiction. “The Bad Reader” addresses gun control at a slant. The story also exemplifies how typical male leadership roles are changing, that a barrage of forceful words and deeds may no longer be appropriate for today’s adolescent male.
Mozina serves up more teenage angst in “Overpass,” a cautionary coming-of-age tale about two teenage boys in Boone’s Farm t-shirts, army jackets, and Dad’s boots. These boys must decide if the adult world is really somewhere to spend time. So far, their parent’s fractured world seems like a place to avoid at all costs. With little hope left for the future, Jack and his buddy, Stan the man, act as recklessly as the pubescent testosterone bubbles exploding rapidly inside T. C. Elliot’s “Greasy Lake.”
Violence escalates and Mozina describes a typical teenage rebellion, but “Overpass” almost touches something deeper. Like many of the stories in Quality Snacks, “Overpass” has a finger on the heartstrings of current economics and how the effects of a failing economy crosses class and age. But, also like others in Mozina’s collection, “Overpass” is but a quick snack when a well-rounded meal was in order. Fleshed out, “Overpass” could have achieved what Mozina’s later stories “A Talented Individual” and the title story, “Quality Snacks,” serve up: an emotional and intellectual fullness. In both of these full-bodied stories, Mozina allows enough time to pass that we begin to see a chain of cause and effects, a falling of the dominoes in the life of two men.
“Quality Snacks” follows a man named Reggie through the corporate world of Frito-Lay. An artistic baker, Reggie works for a company that values creativity. For years he has believed that his work in the science of chip development makes people happy, that a quality snack can get people through anything. Mozina doesn’t just place a finger on the heartstrings of readers in this selection, but plays a recognizable melody that we can hear in our own lives if we listen closely enough. Reggie has replaced human relationships with artificially flavored taco corn chips and nightly porn. He binges on Taco Doritos and ass-cams. It is Reggie’s realization and reflection on this, his dependency on the artificial, that rings true to modern-day readers.
Mozina’s acutely character-driven collection contains a multitude of selves. In “Pelvis,” a nearly untouched virgin waits in line to be had by a king, Elvis. She wants “a mouth made by king kisses” and hips that have been hinged open first by that famous gyrating pelvis. In beat-stirring language reminiscent of Clifton’s homage to her hips, this young girl recognizes the power of her body. Mozina laces this quasi-feminist act with tragedy, though; her king is just a man like the sloping-kissing boys back home in Milwaukee.
In “Self-Reliance,” we taste a slightly wicked tale of humiliation. Yet another talented individual must discount himself or be laid off while the towns and cities shut down around him. In this story and others, Mozina delves into the instability and mental disturbances of every day life. He shows us how others have done it, how they’ve pulled through life challenges or fallen off the wagon, and how they’ve managed to feed themselves along the way.
Andy Mozina is a talented individual. His newly minted collection of quality shorts leaves readers with plenty of food for thought—even if they might still be longing for some dessert after digesting the stories in Quality Snacks.
May 2014, Wayne State University Press
$18.99, paperback, 216 pages
—Reviewed by Mindy M. Jones