Edge of the Known Bus Line
By James R. Gapinski
Etchings Press, 2018
134 Pages, $12.00
Review by Michael Barron
One morning, the unnamed narrator of James R. Gapinski’s short speculative novel Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press, 2018) boards a seemingly normal city bus, which mysteriously transports her down an impossibly long tunnel to Out of Service, a wasteland populated by desperate men, women, and children, each of whom also boarded a normal bus and were dumped into this squalor, forced to survive on rats and the occasional human corpse. One might describe this world as “post-apocalyptic,” but a more accurate description might be “perpetually-apocalyptic,” an area that has always been impoverished and as far as we can tell, and always will be.
The narrator finds herself pulled out of an acceptable (if not terribly happy) existence and plunged into an environment full of hunger, poverty and abuse. She never shares her name and the details of her background are few: she grew up on a farm, worked in a deli, escaped a toxic marriage. Also, she may have had a child who passed away.
Initially she looks down upon other members of the community, refusing to accept that she is one of them now. She doesn’t even want to know their names, instead providing us with descriptive titles such as “Ass-Starer,” “Naked-Boy” and “Toothless-Teen.” One of her first reactions: “Apparently nobody bathes in Out of Service.” The misery of living in Out of Service pushes her to try to break out of the normal habits of her life. She eventually becomes the community’s butcher, a vital position in their society, forming connections with other people. Because of her hardship, she actually starts to take the initiative to improve her life.
Edge of the Known Bus Line shows us a side to the struggling youth story that we don’t often see. The novel doesn’t just depict the lone individual persisting, it also portrays hundreds of peers who either deliberately or unintentionally do everything within their power to keep her as unfortunate as they are. Gapinski uses this society to comment on how in the real world, people who have been so trampled by forces beyond their control, often cope by blaming misfortunes upon higher powers. Instead of trying to take control of their own destinies and return home on their own, they place every ounce of their faith in a magic bus that is clearly never going to arrive. The novel is a harsh critique on humanity and at times a brazen reflection on our own culture, but it’s also a poignant one.