by: Bret Anthony Johnston
Corpus Christi: Stories is a collection of short stories, which I’m going to be upfront about and say – not my favorite form of literature. While I enjoyed this book and have a mostly positive review, and Johnston is certainly an amazing writer, I do think some of my less favorable remarks are influenced by the fact that I don’t particularly care for short stories.
And on the note of full disclosure, Corpus Christi is set in the Texan city it is named after, which is about an hour from where I grew up. It was the nearest big city and I spent a lot of time there, shopping, going to orthodontist appointments, checking out the sights and the beach – it’s a pretty cool place. The Texas State Aquarium is amazing; go if you have the chance. And, with the caveat that Johnston did grow up actually in Corpus, I felt a little odd about how he chose to incorporate the setting into the story.
Certainly, the setting felt like it was a real place, but – his Corpus was not my Corpus. It appears from his biography that he hasn’t lived in Corpus for a while, and there were certain parts of the dialect and the stories that just jarred slightly. (I’ve never heard anyone from back home say “sunblock,” for instance; I’ve always heard it referred to as “sunscreen.”) The reference to the Nutcracker coming to town being a big deal – there’s now a ballet in Corpus that performs that every year; I feel like that sentence should have been started with “Back then” or something.
But there were certainly parts that felt authentic, and it’s only the second book I’ve read set in Corpus, and the third set in South Texas/the Coastal Bend in general, so there’s that. I also think I would care less about whether or not it aligned with my experience of Corpus if there were more books or media or any sort set there.
One of the big things that jumped out at me, though, was how predominately white the stories were. According to Wikipedia, Corpus is more than 50% Hispanic/Latino and I think one of the most jarring things about the stories was how whitewashed they seemed. That may have just been Johnston’s experience, depending on what neighborhood he grew up in, but it was probably the biggest thing that stuck out to me as not feeling like Corpus.
That aside, Johnston is an amazing writer. His stories mostly examined relationship between adult children and their parents, though not exclusively. It’s not a relationship I tend to focus a lot of my reading on, but I really enjoyed the way Johnston explored them. They were complicated and imperfect, and many of the characters existed within a dysfunctional family.
Johnston does an absolutely fantastic job of creating this complex relationships between these extremely well-developed characters, very simply and in an incredibly short amount of space. His writing is beautiful and the stories have – emotional resonance? They weren’t quite bittersweet but they managed to strike the perfect balance between evoking pain and evoking hope. There are three connected short stories that form the backbone of this collection, focusing on the relationship between a mother and her son, and I absolutely loved them. They were brilliant and honest and heartbreaking. His use of the scenery was subtle, but it fit well into the story and I think the title is completely appropriate. I am definitely going to be reading more of his works.
If you like elegant, yet heartbreaking short stories, or if you love a well-written story, you should absolutely read Corpus Christi. If you’re into happy endings, or something more than a hope for a better future, you should probably give this one a pass.
If you’re from Corpus or if you’ve ever lived there, I’d love your take on this book! Please leave a comment!