How To Carry Bigfoot Home
128 pages (13 stories)
Red Hen Press
Read this if you like: Kelly Link, Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami
tl;dr summary: Quirky merger of cryptids and fantasy with real-world settings and emotions.
So with AWP again quickly approaching, I figured it was about time to read all the books I bought at the conference last year and never got around to. This book is one of those. I bought it knowing nothing about the author or the stories, pretty much on the appeal of the title and cover alone (which have a pretty high level of appeal, you have to admit):
…also I was at the Red Hen Press table which gave me confidence I’d like it, since I don’t think I’ve ever not liked a book put out by Red Hen.
The first two stories (“Here Be Dragons” and “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep”) have this wonderful disjointedness about them. The interest came for me in how the characters and the setting/plot were just ever so slightly out of sync. In “Here Be Dragons” there’s this scam artist/dragon hunter turn stay at home dad—and anachronism isn’t quite the right word, but it’s the one I keep thinking. A stay at home dad in Medieval Europe feels like the inverse world to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: a casual modern tone and culture superimposed over a fantasy landscape. Or—
(ahead thar be spoilers!)
—the way it goes down at the end of “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep.” The whole time it’s this touching (and very literary) story of loss and the friendship between two old drunks, and when Sammy (the younger old drunk) joins a fishing crew hired to find a sea monster, of course I’m thinking the sea monster is a metaphor, right? It represents his addiction or his former dreams and life, maybe even his relationship with his daughter? But no, not a metaphor. Nennorluk is, in fact, an actual sea monster. The story ends when he eats the ship.
(end of spoilers)
Things like that.
Feels kind of weird to add a spoilers tag to a review of a short story collection but this collection warrants it. I hesitate to say there are twists because that makes it sound like a gimmick, but the unexpected turns some of the stories take is part of their magic and you’d lose something from your first read if you knew what was coming.
From a writerly perspective, the thing I found most compelling about How To Carry Bigfoot Home was the way Tarry built the lives of his characters in the course of the narrative. In “For the Likes of John Muir,” the way he uses the mysterious wedding guest to fill in Richard’s life story builds a beautiful dramatic irony. The most impressive example of this, though, is the story “Lonely Fish.” In four pages, Terry paints the protagonist’s entire life without even giving the reader her name, making a story about a disconnected foot floating in a lake feel heartwarming and touching.
This is a very clever collection. Now and then, it perhaps gets a little too clever, or should I say relies a bit too much on clever (“M.V.P.” and “City Hall Pair-Bonding Study” felt guilty of that) but overall Red Hen Press has come through for me again. As both a writer and a reader, How to Carry Bigfoot Home is well worth checking out.