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A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales

A Moral Tale, and Other Moral Tales presents a twist on the classic morality play, where rewards and punishments betray the classic fairytale logic and the greatest redemption is -to thine own self be true.- A deluded mathematician spends the night with a recent divorcee who realizes his story doesn't add up. A cat-fearing woman leaves her husband and lands somewhere between home and the underworld. A cheating husband decides to kill his wife and falls disastrously in love with her instead. Colored by an unpredictable and entertaining cast, the stories in this collection explore everything from sublimated desire and apocalyptic despair to classical romance, thwarted idealism, and criminal passion. Winner of the 2016 Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Contest, A Moral Tale, and Other Moral Tales is the debut short story collection by Josh Emmons, whose past novels have been praised by The New York Times, People Magazine, and Jonathan Franzen.
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About the Author

Josh Emmons has published two novels, Prescription for a Superior Existence and The Loss of Leon Meed. A regular contributor to The New York Times, People, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, he teaches at UC Riverside and lives with his daughter in Los Angeles, CA. Visit him on the web at joshemmons.com


"With sentences of elegant and Jamesian precision, Josh Emmons creates in each of these stories entire worlds in which people try to redeem themselves, in melancholy and often hilarious fashion." Susan Straight, author of Between Heaven and Here and Highwire Moon "A Moral Tale and Other Tales builds in power as it's being read, one vital and singular narrative after another. Emmons' stories are unsentimental but ethical, blackly humorous yet compassionate, and every page is marbled with insight. This collection is like nothing you'll read this year or next." -Ken Kalfus, author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country "One grasps for parallels to Josh Emmons' dispatches from human experience at its most non sequitur, but his stories of psychically wayward painters, teen hookers and their haunted inheritances, junkie stunt men without any stunts left, and all the cluster-romances that play out to classical fugues, are as singular as they are irresistible, as resonant later as they are gripping now." -Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville "Hilarious, strange, and scarily smart, Josh Emmons's stories are filled with wisdom, precision, and staggeringly beautiful sentences. Every one of these luminous tales startled and captivated me." --Molly Antopol, author of The Unamericans "An exquisitely strange and deeply intelligent suite of stories about love and desire, how we pursue, deny, and are ultimately--whether we like it or not--defined by both." --Vu Tran, author of Dragonfish "A whip-smart and painfully lucid collection of stories, full of haunting observations and astonishing sentences." --Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine "Emmons is at his most memorable when he narrows in on sharp satirical details...thought-provoking and incisive."-Kirkus Review "These stories offer compelling portraits of lonely, troubled people surviving on their wits and the kindness of strangers. At once stark and nuanced, serious and playful, the fictions in A Moral Tale further cement Emmons's reputation as a wry chronicler of West Coast lifestyles."-Los Angeles Review of Books Past Praise for The Loss of Leon Meed: -A madcap parable about an unwitting Houdini named Leon Meed...[which] leaves us hungry for more. Emmons cycles through and illuminates the plights of his diverse, crowded cast-including a recovering alcoholic, an overweight therapist and a Korean hippie-with a finesse that approaches that of a seasoned literary ventriloquist. The characters' stories take on a cumulative, mesmerizing rhythm.- - The New York Times Book Review Past Praise for The Loss of Leon Meed: "A madcap parable about an unwitting Houdini named Leon Meed...[which] leaves us hungry for more. Emmons cycles through and illuminates the plights of his diverse, crowded cast-including a recovering alcoholic, an overweight therapist and a Korean hippie-with a finesse that approaches that of a seasoned literary ventriloquist. The characters' stories take on a cumulative, mesmerizing rhythm." - The New York Times Book Review Past Praise for Josh Emmons Past Praise for The Loss of Leon Meed: "A madcap parable about an unwitting Houdini named Leon Meed...[which] leaves us hungry for more. Emmons cycles through and illuminates the plights of his diverse, crowded cast-including a recovering alcoholic, an overweight therapist and a Korean hippie-with a finesse that approaches that of a seasoned literary ventriloquist. The characters' stories take on a cumulative, mesmerizing rhythm." - The New York Times Book Review "Here's how you know Josh Emmons is the real deal: he's created a full spectrum of Californian characters who are ludicrous and ill-behaved and lovable in equal measure; he's a major-league prose writer who has fun in every sentence without ever showing off or hitting a phony note; and you want to keep reading him for the pure pleasure of his company." - Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom and The Corrections "As remarkable and moving a portrait of America as I have seen in some time. Josh Emmons pieces together the emotional life of a small city with a wit and range that recalls Robert Altman's Nashville. Mature yet playful, fanciful yet brimming with the details of contemporary life, The Loss of Leon Meed leaves us with an odd feeling of hard-won hope. The hope that in our society kindness and reason may one day prevail." - Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story "An audaciously ambitious first novel...[not] merely determined to dazzle with weirdness. The Loss of Leon Meed is a canny status report on the American soul...engaging, enigmatic." - The Los Angeles Times "Emmons writes with crisp, gratifying authority. As Leon Meed pops up peculiarly, he takes excellent advantage of his character's mobility. The various sites of Leon sightings enable the story to skip around and help conjure a robustly eccentric Northern Californian atmosphere. The Loss of Leon Meed has considerable appeal...and succeeds in finding comic potential in unlikely places. Its developments are jauntily clever...and the novel has a well-developed screwball quality that keeps it buoyant. Emmons has characters bumping into one another unawares until they form a web of interconnection. [He] is wise." - The New York Times "What a pleasure to be welcomed to a brand-new world. Josh Emmons's Eureka, mapped with well-chosen details and a sympathetic eye, is populated by terrific characters whose quests for love, faith and mystery interlock with delicate grace and humor. I enjoyed them all, especially the enigmatic Leon Meed. His loss is our gain." - Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil "Witty, compassionate, and imaginatively structured, Josh Emmons's debut is one of those novels that make you think, 'only in California.'" - Adam Langer, author of Crossing California "Josh Emmons's gorgeous and heart-rending novel is imbued with rare intelligence and even rarer compassion. The Loss of Leon Meed is like a cathedral, in which our wanton failings and unexpected triumphs are gracefully laid bare, and the ensemble cast is its choir, a concert of perfectly pitched and exquisitely aching voices singing of hope and grief, of being lost and, at last, of being found." - Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This "A mystical ensemble fable about chance and fate and the importance of not giving up ... Emmons has sizable talent [and] a real shape-shifter's gift for imagining his way into lives different from, and especially older than, his own... There's wonderful stuff here, little stylistic pleats, serifs and tailfins that root in the mind and just won't budge. Ambitious...its central enigma rewards speculation." - The San Francisco Chronicle "Josh Emmons' dynamic debut novel, The Loss of Leon Meed, focuses on 10 residents of the small, isolated coastal city of Eureka, California-young, female, straight, black, old, gay, white, male-whose lives are drawn together and inexplicably changed over the course of a decade of vanishing and visitations by Leon Meed, a troubled 54-year-old drugstore clerk, only to find themselves altered yet again when he is finally found." - Elle "This complicated, twisting story ends with a mystery solved, and there are wonders in store for the reader as the townspeople are given the gift not only of seeing Leon, but of knowing that he has seen them. As Eve thinks, running with her friend, "You didn't think you had all the time in the world with people, but you thought you had more than there ended up being." Readers will wish they had more time to spend in Eureka, with these utterly involving characters, as they find God or love or hope when they least expect it and probably most need it. This wise and lovely book both understands the troubles of these times and soothes them." - New Orleans Times-Picayune "Emmons' assured prose evokes a drifting sense of desperation, laced with a humor born of groundless hope...his ability to speak convincingly in multiple voices enchants to the very end." - The Onion A.V. Club "In an imaginative and eminently readable debut, Emmons binds together a roster of strangers in a weirdly likable tale of the supernatural. In a very fanciful way, [he] lovingly carves very believable people out of the mists of California and displays them amidst the cacophony of their lives. A witty and sparkling debut." - Kirkus Reviews (starred) "Emmons's imaginative debut novel [is thredded] with interesting meditations on religion, psychotherapy, death, and fate. [He] shows considerable flair in his striking ability to give his whimsical premise such philosophical overtones." - Booklist "A promising debut." - Publisher's Weekly Past Praise for Prescription for a Superior Existence: "'The imagination is always at an end of an era.' Frank Kermode quotes this line from Wallace Stevens to highlight the way some of us Western-bred humans tend to impose a structure on time that accords with our own lifetime: here we are, we tell ourselves, at the end of history...Emmons's clever speculative tale takes that old story and sets it against a backdrop of contemporary environmental and political threats, satirizing American-style credulity about the end of time...at times the book resembles something Philip K. Dick might have written had he lived to experience the climate crisis...it is entertaining." - The New York Times Book Review "In Prescription for a Superior Existence, Josh Emmons successfully avoids the second-novel jinx, following up on his bravura debut, The Loss of Leon Meed, with a neat little metaphysical thriller that manages to combine satire and seriousness, social commentary and science fiction. It's probably unfair that someone so young should be so talented, but the obvious ambition of Emmons's efforts and the degree of his success on his own terms belies the constant currently fashionable moaning and groaning about the 'death of literacy.'...by the end of this witty, wise novel, he has demonstrated how character and destiny are inextricably intertwined." - San Francisco Chronicle "Josh Emmons's Prescription for a Superior Existence...is erudite and engaging; it is poignant and often moving; it is intelligent and lucid. It makes crafty and craftsman-like use of objects. It is even blessed with an empathetic and vulnerable first-person narrator." - Harvard Book Review "It is to the looking-glass borderline of cult and religion that Josh Emmons brings us in his funny, provocative novel...life's overpowering hold on Smith shines through this satire of corporate success, religious cults, self-improvement, rehab and California." - Newark Star-Ledger "Emmons has put his finger on the pulse of a bizarre vein in American religious history that has spawned everything from the Shaker religion to Scientology, from the Branch Davidians to the Yearning for Zion Ranch. He demonstrates an understanding of the process of spiritual seduction...with interesting plot twists and hard-won insights." - The Seattle Times "If the title of Josh Emmons's sophomore novel, Prescription for a Superior Existence, sounds more like a Dr. Phil-type self-help book than a work of fiction, that's entirely purposeful. Emmons takes on trendy religious sects like Scientology and Kabbalah in the story of a 30-something man disgusted with his life who turns to a group called the Prescription for a Superior Existence to find a more fulfilling life, or at least a more fulfilling lifestyle, and winds up getting forced into the group's training camp against his will." - The Boston Globe "A novel about an ordinary man and religion--the creepy, California kind." - People "Emmons rakes a herd of sacred cows over the coals in this unusual novel...Readers with a penchant for satire and the absurd will relish the novel's outrageous premise and knowing jibes at popular culture's sacred and secular excesses." - Library Journal "The truth awaits in Josh Emmons's second novel." - Daily Candy "Emmons's yarn is engaging." - Publisher's Weekly "With Prescription for a Superior Existence, Josh Emmons has created a wholly original, brave, and disturbingly plausible novel, an existential, theological, fin du monde thriller about star-crossed orphans, twenty-first-century cults, environmental angst, and the extremes and consequences of desire." - James P. Othmer, author of The Futurist "In Prescription for a Superior Existence, Josh Emmons's hero Jack Smith -- a man of questionable appetites, high skepticism, and touching vulnerability -- falls through the rabbit-hole of new-fangled California religion. The result is an acidly hilarious, tightly plotted adventure that folds big themes, romantic moments, and a little thing called the end of the world into its pages. Both a wicked skewering of religious cults and a finely wrought testament to their power, this novel reads like Raymond Chandler rollicking through the house of L. Ron Hubbard. It's as probing and smart as it is moving, hopeful, and sweet." - Alix Ohlin, author of Babylon and Other Stories "In this balanced examination of faith's allure, Emmons manages to blur the line between religion and cult, reality and illusion, fate and coincidences, continually challenging readers to discern the difference...The main characters, especially Jack, are flawed and hopeful, evoking sympathy from the reader as they stumble through reality in search of a truth to make life more bearable. With an undercurrent of present-day religious speculation running though, the story unfolds from itself in exciting, twisting ways. But what Emmons does best is to make the plot seem plausible. Emmons describes the detailed inner workings of a made up faith (PASE) as if it were real, as if he merely had to crack open a few research books and scribble down facts. The result is a charismatic and engrossing book that is as important for the skeptics as it is for the believers." - PhillyBurbs.com

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