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Short Bus is a darkly humorous collection of linked stories set in the southern haunts of coastal Texas—near where the Rio Grande dumps its brackish water into the Gulf of Mexico. The stories in this book ponder deformity in all its forms. Fetuses twist their mustaches, feet float in jars, a special- education teacher aims to rob a bank with the aid of his students. But binding these stories is a gentle humanity. Brian Allen Carr moves his grotesque characters toward the hollows of hearts, heaving despicable ...
Short Bus is a darkly humorous collection of linked stories set in the southern haunts of coastal Texas—near where the Rio Grande dumps its brackish water into the Gulf of Mexico. The stories in this book ponder deformity in all its forms. Fetuses twist their mustaches, feet float in jars, a special- education teacher aims to rob a bank with the aid of his students. But binding these stories is a gentle humanity. Brian Allen Carr moves his grotesque characters toward the hollows of hearts, heaving despicable actions toward tender outcomes. Short Bus is a book about understanding the worst of us, smiling at that which makes us shudder.
“Brian Allen Carr’s brain must be a snarl of firing pistons, sizzling fuses, hoses leaking blood and tequila and hydraulic oil. How else can you explain the twisted machinery of his stories? Each of them is a disturbing journey that will thrill and educate you in the sunlit haze of the Texas/Mexico border—and the sometimes subterranean darkness of the human heart.”—Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding and Refresh, Refresh
“Brian Allen Carr balances the harshness of his characters’ lives with beautiful and precise language, making parched land feel lush. Carr writes the best kind of stories—stories that only he could have written.” —Mary Miller (author of Big World)
"Brian Allen Carr has written a short story collection that is everything hardworking—the characters, the scenery, the sentences—all form to build a machine crafted to break hearts along the border. A ridiculously strong first collection."—Shane Jones (author of Light Boxes)
Posted February 5, 2013
I had read this author's winning short story in the Larry McMurtry judged Texas Observer Short Story Contest called The First Henley.
That story was so engaging that I couldn't get enough of him and looked for more. So I picked up The Short Bus. It had been panned by some and applauded by others. In particular was the review by Paula Bomer that used Flannery O'Conne's use of the grotesque in literature to describe just what it was that this writer was doing. That was eye opening and accurate I thought. And I agree with her that Whisper to Scar is both grotesque and "exquisite"....two very difficult and qualities to capture in any short, medium or long story. So then I found Vampire Conditions and thought...."Good Grief, he's writing the next True Blood crap, but to my surprise, no. More stories like Short Bus and The First Henley too boot. Good stuff, but I wouldn't give Melville or Heminway a 5. I'd say a sold 4, however.
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[This review was originally published at The Nervous Breakdown.]
When you wander around the desert looking for trouble, searching for an escape, sometimes you find it. In Brian Allen Carr's powerful collection of short fiction, Short Bus, characters drift through small towns in Texas and Mexico, engulfing these border stories as if huffing paint: Lost, disoriented, with questionable motivations and histories. Carr is able to weave into these adventures the heartbreak, the buried love and intimacy that is sought in the shadows, and then to leave us laughing, shaking our head, and wincing at the pain and suffering we have witnessed, wishing somehow that we could undo it. A boy loses his hand and his father contemplates drowning him. A younger brother considers setting his face on fire in order to gain the sympathy and attention that his older brother gets. A husband questions his pregnant wife's faithfulness, drawing tiny moustaches on the x-rays of the fetus. It all unfolds under the stifling sun, shadows cast in every direction.
Carr creates vivid landscapes that are dotted with sharp details, every rotten board and rusty nail a sign of something more, something larger-the loss and exhaustion of a people that have given up rippling on the surface. From "Over the Border":
"Whores. Oh, the whores. Their bodies beaten, drained like used batteries, so their forms held, but something in the eyes, a vacuous swallow of light rather than a twinkle, and a looseness of skin, so their bones seemed far away even as you stood beside them and eyes their smiles. They leaned in doorways to rooms that opened to the street, on either side, and the sun dipped toward an orange colored west, and a graying east, so the rooms, their pale light spilling, like twin strands of dirty Christmas lights pulled tight across a bed of dust."
Carr's characters are not whole and they are not framed here on their best days. No, they are spinning out of control, addicted and fractured, skittering about looking for a safe place to land, to nod off and rest. In "Whisper to Scar" we get a sense of the kind of mothers you'll find in this collection:
"His mother didn't find him for hours. She was probably out with her boyfriend. Huffing paint. Snorting meth. Videotaping sex in some basement. She's like that. A small town fiend. Shoulders that scrape up through her flesh. Gums receding. Pimples. Tattoos. Stringy unwashed hair and cigarette breath. This was back when things were good for her. This was back when she saw still a waitress at Waffle House."
When working at the Waffle House is the pinnacle of your career, things are probably not going that well.
[Read the rest of the review at The Nervous Breakdown.]