Senin, 22 Agustus 2011

A Wonderful Collection

Corpus Christi Bret Anthony Johnston

Corpus Christi Bret Anthony Johnston

I first became aware of Brett Anthony Johnston because of a terrific story that he had in the Fall 2011 issue of American Short Fiction titled "Paradeability" about a father coping with the aftermath of his wife's death and his son's obsession with learning how to become a clown, which is the boy's way of coping with his mother's loss. It's a greatly paced and nuanced story, offering wonderful insights into how the father and son cope with tragedy. All the skill at display in that piece made me go searching for more work by Johnston and this collection didn't let me down. Each story offers a terrific premise, great character insight and deft writing.

The 10 stories in the piece, all located in or near Corpus Christi, Texas, are:

1. Waterwalkers - 31 pp - My favorite story in the collection. While a hurricane is bearing down on Corpus Christi, a man runs into his ex-wife in a hardware store. They haven't seen each other in years, since they separated and divorced after the death of their son. The story is filled with evidence of why they had the original connection, and how it got marred by the pain of losing their child.

2. I See Something You Don't See - 29 pp - The first in a trilogy of stories about a son who's had to take time off from his teaching job and post-graduate studies in order to move back to Texas to take care of his mother who is dying from cancer. Here his mother is hopeful that she still has some time to enjoy life, but when the son learns her cancer has actually taken a turn for the worse, he keeps the news from her for a while and is wracked with guilt about keeping a secret he knows will shatter all her newfound hope.

3. In the Tall Grass - 27 pp -- A son who has a distant relationship with a father he worships witnesses an episode in which the father erupts into violence, kicking an already hobbled man in his weak knee because of a dispute over the rent the father owes on a stall in a horse barn. The boy, eager for the connection, is mystified by why his father would take him along to witness such a scene.

4. Outside the Toy Store - 10 pp - A widow meets a woman he dated five years earlier, after his wife died and when his daughter was gravely ill. The woman is with her twin, three-year-old boys whom she had with another man after their relationship ended. The encounter begins pleasantly, with each of them recalling fond memories of their time together, but then their interaction takes a surprising turn that reveals much about the man's current state of mind.

5. Corpus Christi - 35 pp - The one story I wasn't thrilled by. It gets a little too artsy for me with the point of view shifting from one character to the next, and there are sections you have to read several times just to figure out what's going on. It's all about the at first circumstantial, and then tragic interaction between a man whose suicidal wife is in a psychiatric hospital and the sister of a soldier who's been committed there after brutally beating up a fellow soldier on the base. On the road later, there's an even more fateful encounter between the husband, the sister, and another soldier from the base who brought her to the hospital.

6. The Widow - 26 pp - The second installment in the trilogy of stories about son Lee and his mother, Minnie, who's dying of cancer. Set again in the present moment when Lee is caring for her, the story reveals through several flashbacks how close Minnie had been to her late husband, and how she'd never fully emotionally recovered from his sudden death a few years earlier from a heart attack.

7. Two Liars - 27 pp - Another story about a young boy witnessing the wayward ways of a father he adores. In this piece, the son watches his father arrive at startling decision for how to deal with the family's financial woes - he sets their house on fire.

8. Anything That Floats - 12 pp - To escape the heat during a prolonged drought, a mother, whose husband is in the hospital, takes her snake-obsessed son to a pool at a hotel managed by a man she had an affair with the year before as payback for her husband's philandering.

9. Bird of Paradise - 22 pp - A teenaged boy gets involved with a friend's crazy father who is having an affair with a woman and asks the boys to steal things from his lover's house. But things taken a dramatic turn when the cuckolded husband, having learned of the affair, shows up at his rival's house with a gun.

10. Buy for Me the Rain - 29 pp - The final story in the Lee and Minnie trilogy packs an incredible wallop. Some incredibly moving scenes as the son sings to his mother, hoping to relieve her final painful moments. There is also a heart-wrenching description of of the mother's final breaths and what the son has to witness as he watches life seep out of his mother. Combined with those moving scenarios is a brutally honest portrait of the son's secret wish that his mother's funeral might give him the opportunity to reunite with the great love of his life, a flighty woman whom he quickly realizes can't give him all he wants even after she does come back into his life and they restore at least a physical connection.

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7 komentar:

  1. Years ago I stopped buying short story collections as I found it to be like buying a CD by a favorite band: There would be the one, popular, Top 10 cut, then the rest of the music would be filler. I was encouraged by a writer-friend to read Corpus Christi and I have to say honestly that each and every story is a gem. This book made me laugh and weep and sing and dance--and weep again--sometimes in the sadness of the story, sometimes in joy at the gift of Johnston's writing. Long ago it seemed the literary world lost the vision of a short story with beginning, middle, end. Here the skill in such craftsmanship is reborn. Bret Johnston deftly chisels every sentence out of the substance that is his beloved medium: the written word.Thank the muses!If you love the short story as an art form, buy this book! You won't be disappointed.

    BalasHapus
  2. One of the biggest literary errors made by new (and even some veteran) writers is to trumpet THE BIG, EMOTIONAL EVENT. Not so with Bret Anthony Johnston's exquisite, powerful debut collection, "Corpus Christi." Whether dealing with madness, a father's violence or broken marriages, Johnston uses both restraint and often humor to paint characters who are as real and flawed as any in modern literature. "Corpus Christi" brings us to places plumbed by Annie Proulx and Dagoberto Gilb but with Johnston's own remarkable imprint.

    BalasHapus
  3. Bret Johnston's debut collection of short stories is an excellent, powerful book. Such talent, compassion and insight coming from such a young writer is extraordinary. Johnston knows his craft, and "Corpus Christi: Stories" is beautifully written.

    BalasHapus
  4. Bret Anthony Johnston's "Corpus Christi: Stories" is a lighthouse of literary fiction, beckoning readers to see life in a new way. As the verbal architect interweaving the stories, Bret Anthony Johnston builds a foundation fortified by the power and exuberance of his words. In "Waterwalkers," his first story, the ground shifts beneath the relationship of a couple, threatening to forever fissure what they once shared. Johnston, however, forges a touchstone that allows readers to experience their loss, their love and their abiding connections, with his ability to craft a strong, unforgettable narrative.

    Johnston's humor, his research (get ready to be amazed at the Karakawa Indians), his visceral knowledge of Texas, and his astute observations offer readers a welcome to characters and circumstances wholly original. If a hurricane threatened my home, my autographed copy of "Corpus Christi: Stories" would be among my prized possessions to protect and save.

    Ironically, another famed architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is credited with observing that "less is more" and "God is in the details." After reading "Corpus Christi: Stories," you may agree that Bret Anthony Johnston is van der Rohe's "writing heir apparent" whose stories illuminate these statements. Just as Mies van der Rohe earned his celebrity energizing space in his Farnsworth House and his Berlin museum by designing walls of glass beneath cantilevered beams, Bret Anthony Johnston (whose celebrity includes being a pro skateboarder and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Harvard) energizes the world of Corpus Christi, Texas from his first sentence to his last.

    In "Corpus Christi: Stories" when a hurricane approaches Corpus Christi and a "Kmart sign cartwheels across the yard," it feels so real a reader may desire to rush inside, away from threatening winds. Yet Bret Anthony Johnston does not abandon his reader. He walks with us to the edge of a fictional cantilevered beam where we can view the abyss that is the aftermath of heartbreak and struggle.

    If there's one book you'll read again and again for its originality and for making you feel exuberant and alive, I respectfully submit it is "Corpus Christi: Stories." (Thank you. Carol Owens Campbell)

    BalasHapus
  5. Vernon Lancaster28 November 2011 09.32

    Bret Johnston's debut collection of fiction signals the arrival of a master storyteller. These are glimpses of lives in a minor key, as his characters struggle to continue in the face of tragedy. At the heart of this book is a novella in three parts which tells the death by cancer of a woman and the son who cares for her in her illness. You won't forget this mother and son; their sadness is palpable, something so authentic you may feel like looking away but can't, it's that real, that wrenching.

    BalasHapus
  6. Joseph Velazquez25 Desember 2012 12.32

    Every one of these painstakingly birthed short stories

    is worth a long discusion and I plan to do

    just that with others in my home town who

    are forming book groups around Corpus Christi: Stories.

    I have never read a writer like Bret Anthony Johnston,

    He is a true original..someone to watch.

    He never resorts to cliche. His characters are very fresh

    and though some are weary and road worn I missed

    them when I closed the book after reading the last page.

    If you are suffering from media burnout and

    the same old same old syndrome, and maybe have had

    a little trouble feeling anything these days due

    to over or under stimulation, this book will

    bathe your soul. You'll love it.

    BalasHapus