Matt Ryan

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Christopher Klim is the author/journalist of several books, including the satires Jesus Lives in Trenton and The Winners Circle. His other books include Idiot!, Everything Burns, Write to Publish, and the Firecracker Jones series. True Surrealism gathers his stories into a complete set for the first time.

Read This Or You're Dead to Me by Matt Ryan

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from the story "Nesting"

Are you in love with her, this...?”
“Jasmine.” Hank saw Darcy pause in the doorway. She had stopped crying. A lit cigarette poked from her fist. With her eyes occasionally darting down the hallway, she put the cigarette to her lips.
“Do you love her?” she asked.
“Not yet.”
“So what’s the attraction?”
“I don’t know.” He watched her rotate toward him. Smoke curled about their faces, connecting them by the thinnest of threads. He could yank her back with a single lie, but he refused to play any more games. “She’s good for me.”
“That’s your excuse?”
“It’s not an excuse.”
“It’s the worst I’ve ever heard. When you fall in love, I guess you’ll know what to say.”
A year later, Hank wondered if she’d jinxed him. He was in love with Jasmine, and he lied all of the time.

from the story "The Final Ingredient"

I wanted to smack her. That was how my mother would have handled it. My mother was a woman who protected the limited space in her life with dramatic gestures. To mark her territory, she would have taken a step toward Faith and stared. This was my kitchen. The title on the engraved menus bore my name. When I was Faith’s age, I had nearly perfect SAT scores and straight A’s in college, but I wasn’t saddled with being an impoverished single parent like my mother. I could’ve been a surgeon or an architect, but I wanted my vocation to be part of the everyday ritual, a constant reminder that the very best ingredients either achieved brilliance or were left to languish by lesser skills. For both my mother and me, there was victory in each stunning meal that I plated.


from the story "The Dog"

Our dog was a German Short-haired Pointer named Greta, with vanilla-chocolate fur that smelled of decaying leaves when wet, which was as often as possible. A bird-dog never shies from water, cutting through the shallows of lakes and streams like an invading troop. Searching for water, Greta seized upon open spaces with jailbreak speed. In all seasons, we kept the front door sealed, making cautious passage, preparing our legs as blockers. I’d witnessed the dog’s ears perk as the doorknob turned and the latch clicked free. No matter where she lay in the house, the dog leapt to the pads of her feet as if sniffing the daylight slicing through the crack. And Greta ran with enviable desire.

In proportion, the dog was smarter and more resolute than her keepers. She controlled our family, even as we leashed her to the pantry door. Learning to enter the back porch with a single paw, she pulled the screen door wide enough to pass, escaping into the yard as she pleased. If food slipped from our plates, she would snatch it midair, never letting it hit the floor. She was vigilant, always watching. Before the rest of us thought to hide, she heard my father pulling into the driveway and slid behind the couch. I recall this now, as my own children cling to me upon arrival. Greta knew that the back of the couch, beneath the coffee table, and the dark corridor in the center of the house offered refuge during sirens, light-ning storms, and the aftermath of a bad day at the office. Greta was a savant of perception, a genius of reaction, skills I’ve honed over decades to mere workability.


from the story "Girl In Landscape"

Pulling myself clear of the pipe, I draped my feet over the edge. The city spread out like Mum’s quilt bedcovering—the patchwork of it, richness and slums mixed together, bits of toss and bits of keepsake pretending to be unaware of the other, but sewn together in close fashion. How beautiful the city looked from up top. I saw the Palace, that white beauty, and started wondering if the Queen had chimneys, if I would get to go up Ma’am’s pipes one day. I’d passed the Palace once and didn’t recall seeing any smoke. Was there something else that kept her warm? Maybe the servants—because everyone knew Ma’am had countless servants—trapped the smoke and carried it to another part of town. You know, Ma’am could have people like that—people who gathered the smoke inside big balloons. Once from a rooftop, I saw a hot air balloon over the Thames and just knew it was filled with that special kind of smoke, like smoke from the Palace. It would explain a lot of things that didn’t make right sense. When I got my fortune from James, I planned to hire a balloon and fly over the rooftops. I aimed to lean over the basket and drop a pence for the mud larks. Wouldn’t that be something when they found a real coin in the mud?


When the fortuneteller called to follow up on her predictions, I told her about Trask’s sawdust boots, but dared not inquire about my future again. A person could know too much. Trask had once revealed that beauty resided in the struggle of creation and that this was why he entertained little concern for selling the finished product. I did not want to see my future with Ava, or there would be no beauty in the process of rediscovery. Once, I had captured the future with her and etched it in stone like one of Trask’s statues. No wonder it shattered when it tipped over.

Some nights, I waited in the parking lot of the Centerville Pharmacy, which had been taken over by a chain drugstore, and I hoped for Ava to approach me by luck and begin another glorious run. During the day, I looked out from the hill beside the warehouse, as Trask’s welding sparks glowed in the studio down the trail.  Studying the rooftops of Centerville from a distance, I wondered how many other people handled my burden, if their dreams had shattered into chards, if they emerged scarred and wiser. Other nights, I lay in bed, listening to Ava’s messages, her voice puzzled, emboldened. I stuffed more cash in envelopes for my family and sent them into the universe like prayers.


1) In what stories does Klim discuss societal gender roles and how do they effect relationships and self-esteem?

2) What is “the final ingredient” needed for chef Nola Jones to complete her change toward her young understudy in the eponymous story?

3) The title story, “True Surrealism,” explores the alter egos of society or the subcultures and over-cultures that exist within the norm. How is duality seen in the everyday?

4) What are the three voices employed in “Girl in Landscape,” and how do each relate to the exploitation of children?

5) In “Complete Exposure,” becoming a nudist wreaks havoc on a marriage. How do both sudden and evolving changes effect long-term relationships?

6) Klim often writes about the dilemma of the shrinking middle class. How do these issues relate to today’s society?

7) What historical/media event, most specifically a photograph, inspired “Coffins”?

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