What I’m looking for most when I sit down to read a book of any kind is to be told a story. I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but this just doesn’t always happen. Every now and again there’s a book that just gives me that feeling of sitting in a warm living room on a winter day and listening to someone who has command of the room tell me something about life and the world I would have never seen in just that way before or maybe every again. The true storyteller has this ability, and one of those spinners is Brian Allen Carr, winner of the inaugural Texas Observer Story Prize, judged by Larry McMurtry.
I had the good fortune to read Carr’s upcoming book Vampire Conditions over the past couple of weeks, due out from Holler Presents on August 1, I believe. The mark of this book, from the author of Short Bus, a Steven Turner Award Finalist, is two-fold. There is the clear sense from the first pages one is in the hands of a capable writer, that safe place all readers seek. And, secondly, there are no moments in any of the six stories included or three interludes in which Carr lets us slip from his fictive dream, one he shares well.
In the three interludes – Boy’s Town #1, Boy’s Town #2 and Slug Trail #2 – there is a lyrical style applied to otherwise gritty sketches that inform the overall feel of the collection. It’s a tricky and brave thing, this, and done well here. The finest of these moments comes in Slug Trail #2 where Carr flexes the poetic as well as I’ve seen in some time:
“You can step into the same river twice. Larger still, that river can step inside you. Swimming to your center. A current unforgiving. As if to say, ‘You might leave me, but I’ll barely ever leave you.’”
The story that stands out most clearly for me, the one that will stay with me long after I’ve moved on to other books, is “The First Henley”.
The opening of “The First Henley” immediately sets the tone for a larger than life story and character:
“I know some of the details back and forth. The first
crippled. His hands bungled by buckshot
blast. Both palms remained, but he’d
lost all but his right-index finger. It
was his friend who’d done the shooting.
The first Henley was a gunman. It was a fairly popular profession in his
What unfolds is a story in which the myth of
builds and builds as with the best of tales with larger-than-life
characters. And the final lines…readers
you will just have to experience them yourselves. I’ve already committed them to memory.
Although, a mix of both sadness and humor throughout, “Corrido” will also stick with me for the humor so finely laced throughout, such as in this passage:
“’Brains,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Juanita. ‘The brains of a goat. We raise the goats ourselves,’ she leaned over with one hand and raised a window. The lowing of goats floated in from the yard.
‘Brains,’ I said. I reached for my cup and drained it.”
Vampire Conditions is a worthy read throughout, one I’ll return again, and that right soon for Carr’s sheer attention to craft and for that comfortable seat where a story is being told with perfect pitch. Keep an eye out for it come August 1.