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3.60  ·  Rating details ·  319 ratings  ·  81 reviews
What if there were a city that consisted only of restaurants? What if Paul Gauguin had gone to Greenland instead of Tahiti? What if there were a field called umbrology, the study of shadows, where physicists and shadow puppeteers worked side by side? Full of speculative daring though firmly anchored in the tradition of realism, Tim Horvath’s stories explore all of this and ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Bellevue Literary Press
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Average rating 3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  319 ratings  ·  81 reviews

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Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hey-shorty
tim horvath is an author who is enamored with language and conceptual gymnastics. i am in love with half of those things.

so, i did not get as dewy-eyed, or dewy-glansed as mfso, just because of my difficulty with abstractions. i have one. i am fine with magical realism, but some of the more philosophical abstractions and metafictional efforts just fray my patience. for example, Altered Native; 16 numbered paragraphs about paul gaugin, did nothing for me, apart from make me curious about walrus
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I will profess to not knowing very much in this life but I will go to the mat, kicking-and-screaming, proclaiming my self-crowned king of short fiction. I love this genre so much that if I was told on pain of death I would never be able to read any other genre, I would salute all those unread Tolstoys and Joyces and never look back. In an alternate universe I followed that childhood itch to be a full-time writer and follow in the footsteps of Flannery O’Connor, Tobias Wolff, Jim Shepard, George ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Numerous sweet spots of This Reviewer (henceforth TR) were struck during the reading of Tim Horvath’s Understories. These points of contact were achieved so frequently and met so squarely as to deliver TR’s inner-discourse unto a series of manic oscillations between florid, barely lingual tangles of praise and a hushed wordless dewy-eyed reverence. There are numerous angles he might take toward this review, many of them feel like re-hashings of other reviews in which he finds slightly new words ...more
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cheryl by: Brian Dice
These are stories born in that zone of distortion before falling into dreams, but instead of dissolving in the daylight of reality, they are brought into heightened relief. Crowding, jostling ideas bump against the 3D prose, merging and splitting until prose and ideas are indistinguishable.
Exhilarating, funny, it exercises mind muscles you didn't know you have.
Nancy Pearl's description of 'elastic realism' fits it perfectly.
Michael Seidlinger
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Simply stated, one of the highest quality story collections I've read in quite a long time. Every single story is pure brain candy.
Adam Floridia
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
According to, the word "singular" means the following:

1.extraordinary; remarkable; exceptional: a singular success.
2.unusual or strange; odd; different: singular behavior.
3.being the only one of its kind; distinctive; unique: a singular example.
4.separate; individual.

God, I hate it when students start their papers off like that. Yet here we are. I cannot think of another word that so perfectly captures my feelings about this book. Perhaps because I am not a very creative person--
Joseph Michael Owens
Dec 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book and Watering Heaven have been easily two of the best collections of stories I've read recently by any publisher, let alone by indie presses. I took my time with Understories and I honestly believe it was worth it to savor each story. The writing here is unbelievably good and undeniably polished. There's always a sense of uncanniness to them where you know something is happening beneath the surface, even if you can't put your finger on it right away. The stories are brilliant and master ...more
This collection of short stories is very unusual in many ways. It is obvious that the individual pieces are meant to be connected, and yet it took me quite a while to figure out how. There is a wide variety of themes that are presented for our consideration. These include: architecture, geography, nature, European history, sibling rivalry, language, communication, family and relationships.

But most of all, this book is about bridging gaps and reaching destinations. It is about travelling to, thr
Jul 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1970-present, prose
Understories is made up mostly of the best kind of challenges fiction can offer us. These are stories, this is a book, that wants to teach you how to read it. It is, at times, heavily allusive, but it also has its own distinct grammar. Its sentences shimmer. It is an intellectual pleasure, a challenge and an education, but doesn't forget that human readers, most of us, like our lit to be more than a set of puzzles and provocations of thought.

As someone who dabbles in writing fiction like Annie
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book. I especially recommend it to my friends from Wallace-l, the listserve dedicated to the writings and life of David Foster Wallace. The author has a style that is not unlike that of DFW and Evan Dara: a high literary style, wrapped in a layer of comfortableness, producing the literary equivalent of a pharmacologically-induced high.

The stories in this collection are all *highly* imaginative. Often the author, Tim Horvath, takes you into a "realification" of a metaphysical conc
Kyle Muntz
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've been having really good luck with collections recently--this is one I wanted to read when it came out, but since I'm usually more interested in novels, I made the mistake of putting it until now. More than anything, I think, Horvath is a master of the novella form: Ciculation (a story about books, family, the origin of things, and... caves), The Discipline of Shadows (focusing on Umbrology, the study of shadows), and The City in the Light of the Moths (a meditation on film; projection; illu ...more
Jun 08, 2012 added it
Shelves: 2012, shadow-man, ndfim
"The projectionist's nightmare: He is not in the booth. Well then, the booth—who's manning it? The film running, the booth empty. Where is he? Mired in vague dream coordinates. And the film is hurtling toward its end, which he senses, viscerally as you might intuit the imminent death of a loved one many miles distant. Shit, shit. Running and running, he can't get there, anywhere. The booth stays empty."

Perhaps the projectionist's nightmare, but not this book's. If anything, Understories is the d
Peter Tieryas
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Video review up:

I did a half review half essay about Understories at Punchnel's. I have a video review forthcoming and just wanted to post a link to my article which talks about how the story, Understories, reminded me of an episde from my university days, ha ha.

"A department studying shadows, a city of only restaurants, Heidegger, my old classes in Berkeley; it’s a potpourri of ideas connected by Tim Horvath’s Understories. Some books inspire, others seiz
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Blimey Horvath is good, maybe too good, by which I mean that the book seems overstuffed and should be two books. The longer, more conventional pieces are clever, layered and many - particularly the Shadows one - echo Nabokov (they are that good) with their academic, categorising backgrounds: a librarian, a cataloguer, a professor of shadows, a philosopher at a German University before WW2. The shorter pieces these are interleaved with are more sci-fi, imaginary communities (one a ghost town, in ...more
Robert Wechsler
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-lit, stories
This collection is a true delight. It’s fresh, varied, and intelligent, and the author’s ear is perfect throughout. And what an imagination!

Horvath also has a great sense of proportion. That is, he knows how long, and short, to make his stories. His showier and more experimental stories are short. His long stories are formally more conservative, but they are winning not only because they are so well-written, but also because the author replaces the clever quirkiness that mars so many young autho
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. I really can't emphasize that enough. I devoured it, wanting to read faster and faster but forcing myself to slow down in order to properly appreciate every word. The way Horvath plays with language is absolutely amazing--sentence after sentence, he'll make you want to sit back and take five minutes to think about what you just read. With each new story there's a new narrative style. And what stories! Cities of restaurants, endangered languages as lovers or children, ru ...more
Edward Rathke
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
It took me weirdly long to finish this, not because it was bad or unenjoyable, but because that's how life is sometimes.

These are amazing stories. Every single one. One of my favorite things about the collection is the length of the stories, which probably sounds odd. But in this day of digital distribution and online reading, it seems that stories become shorter and shorter, and long stories are relegated to the unread or unwanted pile. Horvath manages to prove how great a story with real lengt
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love these stories. The imagination is incredible, but they don't rest on incredible imagination. They would be touching and captivating stories even if events like Gauguin spending his career in Greenland instead of Tahiti didn't happen, but the bizarre imagination makes them even more enjoyable. This is my first experience with Horvath, but I'm hooked. ...more
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
In this collection of mostly previously published short fiction, Horvath has created a loose matrix of urban experience narratives (with a few real outliers) that range from the realistic to the wildly speculative. Uneven in quality but richly rewarding on the whole, Understories is sometimes overly eager but never dull. The author clearly knows his way around a sentence, and his mastery of the art of writing creates both flashes of brilliance and touches of hubris. Witty, satirical, humorous, i ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Hands down my favorite collection of 2012. Can't recommend this book enough. ...more
Julia Fierro
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful collection (more specific review to come)! I'm excited to read more by this author. ...more
Melanie Page
May 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Time Horvath’s Understories reminds me of the complexity found in books released by publishers such as FC2 and Dalkey Archive Press. Those 256 pages are stuffed with ideas and contains little dialogue!--it actually took me longer to read that I thought it would. The collection has eight short stories connected as “Urban Planning Case Studies” and a slew of other tales of theories--about shadows, dying languages, trees, boxes--using unconventional links in storytelling to pull all these ideas int ...more
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've been hearing about this book off and on all summer, finally enough times that I was moved to read it, and I was really glad I did. Horvath writers a kind of cerebral fiction, where the characters often are academics, and more often than that, talk like they are-- the stories are often delivered in this kind of hyper-thoughtful language that verges on the bureaucratic but doesn't quite get there; it's the language of scientific reports, odd foreign dispatches, the late life memoirs of well-r ...more
Jennifer Spiegel
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I just spent some great time reading Tim Horvath's collection, UNDERSTORIES. I haven't done one of my entirely unorthodox book review-thingies on my blog in a while, and I wish I had the time to devote myself to convincing you to give this one your full attention.

So, here's a moment. Allow me to emphasize that it needs attention. I needed to read it carefully, attentively. First, Horvath knows how to write one kick-arse sentence after another. These are sentences to read aloud, to get the feelin
Katy M
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Pop Sugar 2020 Reading challenge-a book with an upside down image on the cover.

This book has some funny stuff and some weird stuff. The weird generally overwhelms the funny. The introduction is hilarious so I had higher hopes for the rest of the book.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Like it. Very spatial.
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Erin Lyndal Martin
The stories are masterfully crafted, and done so with a nuance that’s never pretentious or showy. These stories helped me a lot in my own writing.
Jaclyn Michelle
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it

"It was the comfort of your tongue tripping on your own sweat, a friendly reminder that of the world's salt, a share is yours." (p. 14, Circulation)

The back jacket copy is what compelled me to request Tim Horvath's Understories from the May Early Reviewers batch on LibraryThing: "What if there were a city that consisted only of restaurants? What if Paul Gauguin had gone to Greenland instead of Tahiti? What if there were a field called Umbrology, the study
Clark Knowles
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book. This book is often compared to Borges and Calvino, and certainly those comparisons are apt, but Tim really has his own thing happening here--some middle passage between total immersion into the fantastical and good old fashioned attention to the grounding concrete details of the real. The longer stories blend elements of science and history (both real and imagined) into stories of longing and regret ("Planetarium" is my favorite, great last paragraph) and many of the shorter st ...more
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