A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales

A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales can be found in bookstores everywhere and ordered here. Read its title story at Lithub and “Arising” at Numero Cinq.

Emmons writes tightly knit, engaging plots. Each phrase, paragraph, and scene carefully reticulates into the next. His prose is uniformly eloquent, clean and precise. The stories have meticulously considered desire-resistance patterns. But these are not simple, straightforward literary short stories. Neither are they strict moral tales as the title suggests. The often passive, sexually chilly characters do not change or reveal character so much as try to do everything they can to disguise it and forestall revelation. Pair this with fantastic environments and whimsical humor, and many of these stories left me with an odd sensation, as disoriented as the characters themselves...Each reading inspires visions and revisions. What they have to say, their ‘moral,’ comes—if it does at all—in whispers, as though speaking softly might close the distance between Emmons and the reader, as though about both moral tales and literature we all have been wrong.”

- Numero Cinq

“The narrator of one piece claims, “What came next hardly warrants retelling, so familiar is the story…” but nothing could be further from the truth, as Emmons possesses an uncanny gift to make the distant, half-remembered folktales of our childhoods feel both present and unexpected. In “Nu,” we observe a woman who is afraid of cats, in part because of what they represented to the ancient Egyptians, and characters throughout the collection frequently compare their lives to fables (“…real life is less frightening than fairy tales. And less exciting. And there’s no way to know which is better”). These drifting souls search for meaning and connection across a variety of settings, whether it’s modern day France (“A Moral Tale”) or medieval England (“Humphrey Dempsey”). The result of their foibles comprises one of the most dazzling and assured story collections of the year.”


The beauty of Emmons’s book is its intelligence....All these stories present us with moral dilemmas, even when the context is not what we typically think of as moral. They make us examine our own lives and beliefs, and that is always a good thing. A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales is ingenious in its construction of dilemmas and the ways out of them. It heightens our sense of morality as an event and a subject, which we can think about in various ways. Josh Emmons...is, as people say, a writer to watch.”

- Colorado Review

“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

"[Emmons's] words bewitch; we suspend disbelief willingly and follow him into strange places and some recognizable fairytale landscapes. He explores heavy topics with a deft hand and sly humor..."

- Atticus Review

“This is an extraordinary collection of stories—a rousing call-to-arms, a diaphanous scream into the void, a nuanced celebration of our misguided hearts. Josh Emmons has given his lucky readers a trenchant rendering of souls under siege. Each story is an invention and invitation, a protest and a prayer, and ultimately they converge in a chorus of desperate and desperately beautiful hope.”

Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This

Hilarious, strange and scarily smart, Josh Emmons' 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

One grasps for parallels to Josh Emmons’ dispatches from human experience at its most non-sequitur. 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

“This is one of the best books I've read in ages—a whip-smart and painfully lucid collection of stories, full of haunting observations and astonishing sentences. Over and over again, these stories ask what it means to make a moral judgment, without ever making that judgment for us; they resist easy explanations and obvious resolutions, and leave us in a raw and reawakened state of human clarity.”

Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine

“A Moral Tale and Other Moral 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

“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

“I enjoyed and admired every page of A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales. Josh Emmons has written 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  

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