Johnston's stories read as if they were written by someone who's lived various lives and has had time enough to develop real wisdom, generosity, and the art of making strong, clean sentences. What I especially love about Corpus Christi is the fact that many of the characters walk the finest line between violence and love, and do so with a tenderness that is heartbreaking.
Bret Anthony Johnston is a name to put on your list - that list of writers you always read first. He knows how you can despair of people and go on treasuring them - hard-living, hard-headed, unexpected people who look out of his stories like brightly lit signposts on a dark highway. "Look here," they say. "Right here."
In his first collection of stories, Johnston eloquently depicts individual lives at once haunted and painfully enriched by memory, and by the losses of which memory is made. A wise and moving debut by a talented young writer.
I'm looking forward to a week in southern Spain in the company of Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston. It has a fascinating fictional premise: a missing child who comes back and a changed family who have to get used to the idea. I've dipped into it already and the writing is clear and beautiful. Besides, a novel that comes with effusive quotes from John Irving and Alice Sebold has to be pretty good.
Johnston's excellent debut is primarily a literary novel, with old-fashioned virtues such as rich characterisation, strong structure and impeccable control of tone. Although it is reminiscent of John Updike, the mixture of summer heat and melancholy feels peculiarly Texan
enthralling and skillful... the book's beauty is in its complexity, in its characters' endless search for the truth... uncomfortably revealing... What Johnston captures and examines so expertly isn't the kind of sadistic cruelty familiar to anyone with a television, but a subtler, more quietly menacing variety, the eggshell tiptoeing, the killing kindness we unknowingly inflict when acting out of love and fear... Remember Me Like This isn't a novel about kidnapping. It's not a psychological study of Stockholm syndrome or a victimology. It's not a thriller, and it's not even really a mystery, unless it's an unsolved one, the exquisitely moral mystery of how we struggle to accept and love the people we call family, even when we can't fully know them
A gorgeous, accomplished debut.
Stunning and complex... It's hurricane country, and Johnston's exquisitely drawn men and women are riders on the storm, coping with an iffy emotional landscape that mirrors Corpus Christi's own, where the past is too easily washed away and the ocean has no memory.
Hard-eyed, life-affirming... These stories are relentlessly sober, large-hearted, and intense. In their pathos, to quote C. S. Lewis on Chaucer, "every fluctuation of gnawing hope, every pitiful subterfuge of the flattering imagination, is held up to our eyes without mercy" (The Allegory of Love); and yet their effect is spiritually bracing. We are human to the last.
Fans of Raymond Carver's spare, carefully crafted stories will rejoice... [Johnston has] a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a dead-on eye for conjuring an entire universe with one simple detail... His ten stories are individual gems... Johnston's genius lies in weaving a web of optimism around a series of difficult topics. If [these stories] are read as they seem destined to be - obsessively, in one sitting - their rapt audience will turn the last page with a profound sense of calm.
In the mold of Denis Johnson, Ian McEwan, and Barry Gifford, Johnston is a writer of stories that peel away the soul of a man, sometimes with quaking fingers, other times with a hunting knife. The stories are sometimes spastically violent, other times uncommonly delicate, but always memorable.
Compelling and haunting... Johnston's evocative descriptions of events, feelings, and Corpus Christi itself connect readers to his characters and their dilemmas and reactions to tragedy.
[A] promising debut collection... astutely observed... 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.
The world that Johnston brings us into is at once familiar and oddly surreal, for the author writes with great attention to detail and nuance.
[Bret Anthony Johnston is] a fresh young writer from Texas who writes as if he's a wise old man from the hard cities of the heart. His honesty is a beacon to the soul.
Beautifully written... Johnston's stories extract truth through their bittersweet tone.
As refreshing as a cool breeze on a humid summer day - and as strong and surprising as a short-notice tropical storm... sharp, tough, and poignant... "Two Liars" and the title story, "Corpus Christi," are among the best short works to emerge from Texas in quite some time. A good story induces a polite nod; a great story can hurt your feelings. These stories can make a reader's blood ache.
[An] engaging collection... In simple, unadorned prose [Johnston] goes to the heart of each loss and makes his readers care about lives that usually merit no more than a paragraph in the local paper.
Excruciatingly beautiful... With a compassion that belies his years, Bret Anthony Johnston turns a questing eye on life's difficulties in his extraordinary debut collection... These thoughtful pieces contain the very gist of universal human experience - people straining to connect, people needing to understand.
Bret Anthony Johnston's premier collection, Corpus Christi, sways as easily as a palm in the wind... Beautiful, simple prose... The stories function like a five-car pileup. It is impossible to look away.
Ordinary people in ordinary circumstances are the catalysts for extraordinary fiction in this impressive debut collection of short stories.
Johnston is a remarkable writer. His economy of words and simplicity of expression are his power tools. How did one so young gain this enormous insight into the human heart and understanding of the human condition? Corpus Christi is a small masterpiece.
Johnston's depiction of Corpus Christi, half-there, grey and dishevelled, is a brilliant background choice for the collection of stories whose characters are also neither here nor there.
A beautiful and auspicious debut, Corpus Christi points to a bright future both for the short story genre and for Johnston as a writer. If Corpus Christi is any indication, we can expect great things from both in years to come.
Taut, tender... acutely observed, true-to-life stories wrung completely of sentiment... Johnston has a long career ahead of him.
Johnston writes prose that is lurid, clean, and marked by precise images. His stories possess something tempestuous; they evoke that pre-storm air pressure, when the air gets thick and the sky turns a dark and sickly yellow... Astonishing revelations and emotional insight.
In the hands of South Texas native Bret Anthony Johnston, human emotions are exotic beasts and Corpus Christi is the zoo where he puts them all on display. The ten stories in this debut collection... are litera verité depictions of simple family relationships.
Simplistic and brisk on the surface, Johnston's debut collection of short stories is actually intense and lyrical, with compact, penetrating sentences and dialogue precise enough to have been lifted from a Dictaphone... Wryly comical... achingly beautiful.
Johnston depicts [Corpus Christi's] inhabitants with lyricism and sympathy.
Johnston... surrounds a study of loneliness with its most natural companions - memories, which he handles gently, sensitive to their decay... This is wonderful writing, easily evocative, and it makes memory almost tactile.
The humour here is tough and the emotions wrenching. Johnston's eye for humanity and the natural world around us is wonderfully keen.
Corpus Christi... is a breath of fresh air, an inspired work from a formidable new talent and proof that the art of the short story is still alive and well in the field of American fiction... Each well-honed story in Corpus Christi glimmers... These stories thrive, peopled with living and breathing characters and fraught with conflict and the kind of imagery that crawls under your skin and makes you shiver with despair and recognition... Just as Faulkner did with the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, Johnston has given us a fully realized world in which his vivid characters seek to understand their stark, dirty, and even threatening surroundings.