cover image CORPUS CHRISTI


Bret Anthony Johnston, . . Random, $23.95 (255pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6211-9

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 [is] born not of hope... but of hope's absence." Agent, Collins McCormack Literary Agency . (June 22)