How to Carry Bigfoot Home: Stories
by Chris Tarry
Red Hen Press, March 2015
144 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Nick Sweeney
The best comparison short stories have is that of a good album. There is something different to each track, different in a myriad of overt and subtle ways and yet all together similar. You know when you hear Bruce Springsteen, you can swear by Queen: it’s those familiar sounds and familiar patterns. A good short story collection does that and more. That’s what Chris Tarry has tried and succeeded in doing, with How to Carry Big Foot Home. Many will know Tarry as a jazz musician and will be happy to know that he brings much of that talent to the pages of this collection. His previous literary endeavor, The Rest of the Story (Nineteen-Eight Records, 2011), acted as an incredible jump from music to prose; it was a great opening act for what was to come. Stay seated, ladies and gentlemen, and hold onto your drinks, because How to Carry Big Foot Home waits for no reader. The stories within will jump from the mid-life crisis of an out of work dragon slayer, to a case study of survival in a love story, to instructions of deconstructing reality. Tarry tells stories that we need to here, albeit in a very different tune than many readers are accustomed to.
At times, it seems that writers attempt to bend particular tropes in genre writing for the sake of amusement, to show they can, or to make it more “literary.” One reader could see why Tarry takes the time and effort to create the props for each of his stories, as stated in a HTMLGIANT interview: “I am, of course, a product of the Star Wars generation…I loved it when George Lucas built a full sized version of the Millennium Falcon and used it for no more than thirty seconds of screen time. The actors could walk around on it. The camera could get into all the dusty corners.” By using “real” props that stand on their own, Tarry allows his stories to stand out in ways that force a second and third read. Not because things are jumbled or clunky, but because you miss the “dusty corners” and the reality of it. You need to see the beauty of the detail in the sparsely-seen Millennium Falcon that hides within each of the stories.
One of the biggest issues with short story collections is their accessibility and their readability. Is it worth the cover price to read a dozen or so stories and maybe only truly enjoy one or two? I can understand the skepticism and I think Tarry can to, because each story is a concentrated and complete effort. The opening story, “Here Be Dragons,” sets the mood appropriately. Tarry may use a wide selection of props to tell his story, but his plots and focus are quickly noticed. It’s not about the dragons and the well-constructed world around the main characters—it’s the familiar issues of fatherhood and expectation that we see clearly. In an interview with BULL, Tarry states “I chose the setting because the story deals with some pretty touchy subjects; attempted drowning of a young child, a father pushing his kid around, etc. When it comes to kids, those things can be pretty hard to write (and even harder to read), and it can often turn some readers off. Taking it out of reality just slightly, putting it in a faux-Germanic 1400’s-ish time period allowed me to sugarcoat those scenes a little bit.” He then mentions this trick of replacing reality when discussing George Saunders. The importance of short stories has always lied within the inner workings, not the exterior. Regardless of the time or the place, it is the people we see for only a few mere moments that forces us to reconsider our judgments and expectations. Tarry’s narrator tries to make sense of it early on: “We were destruction in the wake of confidence. Strength where it mattered and deception when it counted. ‘We’re men being men,’ Géorg used to say, and that was usually good enough for me.” This collection is a testament to that feeling, that regardless of the genre “bending” of some of these stories, we see the true plight of the characters. It’s not the dragons that truly scare us, it’s ourselves.
In addition to creating fully-painted worlds, Tarry is quickly becoming a master of the short story hook. In “Paint Your Child Red” he opens with “Last night, my kid drove a stolen car through a plate-glass window down at the Hardee’s on Main Street. I should have let him sit in jail for a week. But I didn’t. I bailed him out. Walked in, laid down twenty grand, because that’s what you do. Parenting 101.” Everything you need to know is there. In the simple action of posting bail for the narrator’s child, we know how close to the conflict we are about to see. In the collection’s title story “How to Carry Bigfoot Home”, the reader is immediately thrust into the understanding of whom and what Bigfoot aims to be with this opening: “Bigfoot walks in to teach my first-year Creative Writing class and goes, ‘Anyone else think it’s hot in here?’” Like a good song, his writing holds onto you and begs to be finished. From the dragons to the space ships and everything in between.
Chris Tarry puts together a near perfect set for readers to enjoy. The lessons learned from the likes of Saunders and Shepard are put to good use. After you put it down, you may find yourself wondering about the skies of dragons, the humanity of the mythical Nennorluk, and the instructions of the RENEGADE R-6 9000X. You may recite the opening sentences of new and old worlds and you will be all the better for it. Short stories are on the rise again, they never should have been thrown to the wayside in the first place, and this collection shows us the beauty of the story, what happens when you hit the perfect note and make a whole room fall silent.