From an acclaimed and award-winning young writer comes an intensely moving debut collection set in the eye of life’s storms. In Corpus Christi, Texas—a town often hit by hurricanes— parents, children, and lovers come together and fall apart, bonded and battered by memories of loss that they feel as acutely as physical pain.
A car accident joins strangers linked by an intimate knowledge of madness. A teenage boy remembers his father’s act of sudden and self-righteous violence. A “hurricane party” reunites a couple whom tragedy parted. And, in an unforgettable three-story cycle, an illness sets in profound relief a man’s relationship with his mother and the odd, shifting fidelity of truth to love.
Told in fresh, lyrical voices and taut, inventive styles, these narratives explore the complex volatility of love and intimacy, sorrow and renewal—and expose how often these experiences feel like the opposite of themselves. From the woman whose young son’s uncanny rapport with snakes illuminates her own missed opportunities to the man confronting his wife and her lover in a house full of illegal exotic birds, all the characters here face moments of profound decision and recognition in which no choice is clearly or completely right.
Writing with tough humor, deep humanity, and a keen eye for the natural environment, Bret Anthony Johnston creates a world where where cataclysmic events cut people loose from their “regular lives, floating and spiraling away from where we had been the day before.” Corpus Christi is a extraordinarily ambitious debut. It marks the arrival of an important, exquisitely talented voice to American fiction.
In his promising debut collection, Johnston travels through time and across socioeconomic divides to present a series of nuanced portraits of middle-aged, middle-American loneliness in all its permutations. All 10 of these astutely observed stories are set in or near Corpus Christi, Tex., a small Gulf Coast city that, in addition to getting hit hard and often by passing hurricanes, is subject to more than its share of emotional storms. Encompassing dusty old horse corrals, private yacht marinas, a naval air station and a run-down motel, Johnston's Corpus is America in microcosm. But it is the emotional landscape that interests the author, not the physical, and, without lapsing into sentimentality, he evokes a peculiarly American brand of abject loneliness and tentative optimism. When his wind-buffeted and storm-scarred protagonists revisit the past, they do so not in the flattering, fire-lit glow of placid old age but in the caustic light of bitter revisionism. A now-grown son recalls the night his father torched their well-tended family home in order to pay off his debts with the insurance settlement. A young man brags to co-workers about reaching 120 mph in his new Lexus, failing to reveal that he did so on his way to visit his wife in a psychiatric hospital. And an elegantly constructed novella in three stories finds a dying mother grappling with the knowledge that her grown son/caretaker "would survive this, rebuild a life that she would never see.... Shouldn't this please rather than terrify and anger her?" In Corpus, memory summons loneliness rather than banishing it, and "calm born not of hope... but of hope's absence."