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the story behind the book

Tim Horvath and his ‘unruly fictions’

04storybehind credit David Wilso

In his short story collection, “Understories,” Tim Horvath writes of places — unusual, implausible, imagined. One inspiration was Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” a book Horvath says he’s been “mesmerized and haunted by since [he] was a teenager.”

As he wrote, Horvath says, “more cities kept coming,” including the one in “Urban Planning: Case Study Number Seven: The City in the Light of Moths,” a town besotted by cinema, deeply rooted in Horvath’s own memories of going to old movies with his father.

“The Understory,” one of the book’s longest pieces, takes place in the anti-city: the deep forests of New Hampshire, where an elderly German biologist studies the trees. Horvath, a New Yorker who moved north a decade ago to study writing at the University of New Hampshire and now teaches at New Hampshire Institute of Art, is a transplant who has put down roots. “The woods are a place where I find solace,” he says.

Writing about place is deeply traditional, but Horvath, with his nods to Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, is often described as an experimental writer. He isn’t crazy about the label.


“I teach a class called ‘unruly fictions.’ and I like that term rather than experimental,” he says. “When people hear ‘experimental,’ the connotation is either that it’s just sort of a laboratory experiment and therefore disconnected from the larger world or the emotional world, or that it’s difficult somehow, impenetrable.”

Even though his stories are “modeled on these strange, sometimes physically impossible, or unlikely cities,” Horvath says, “they’re really about people, ultimately. I want the work to be able to play with language and texture and form, but also to deliver readers somewhere, to move and stir them.”

Horvath, who also teaches at Boston’s Grub Street writing center, will read at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Newtonville Books. David Kalish (“The Opposite of Everything”) will also read.


Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at