Reviews of Corpus Christi: Stories

“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.”

— Los Angeles Times Book Review

“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.”

— Boston Sunday Globe

“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 10 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.”

— San Francisco Chronicle

“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.”

— Pages

“A gorgeous, accomplished debut.”

— David Mitchell, “Books of the Year,” The Independent (London)

“Corpus Christi [is] among the finest of the current generation of US and international exponents of the short form.”

— The Irish Times

“Beautifully written. . . .Johnston’s stories extract truth through their bittersweet tone.”

— Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)

“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.”

— Texas Books in Review

“[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.”

— Tin House

“[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.”

— Baltimore Sun

“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.”

— Corpus Christi Caller-Times

“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.”

— Mid-American Review

“Ordinary people in ordinary circumstances are the catalysts for extraordinary fiction in this impressive debut collection of short stories.”

— The Dallas Morning News

“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.”

— Library Journal

“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.”

— Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, California)

“Johnston’s depiction of Corpus Christi, half-there, gray and disheveled, is a brilliant background choice for the collection of stories whose characters are also neither here nor there.”

— The Texas Observer

“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.”

— Arkansas Times

“[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.”

— Publishers Weekly

“Taut, tender acutely observed, true-to-life stories wrung completely of sentiment Johnston has a long career ahead of him.”

— San Antonio Express-News

“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.”

— The Boston Phoenix

“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 verite depictions of simple family relationships.”

— Texas Monthly

“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.”

— LA Weekly


— Austin Chronicle

“Johnston depicts [Corpus Christi’s] inhabitants with lyricism and sympathy.”

— The Atlantic Online

“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.”

— Austin American-Statesman

“The humor here is tough and the emotions wrenching. Johnston’s eye for humanity and the natural world around us is wonderfully keen.”

— The Birmingham News

“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.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“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.”

— The Chattahoochee Review

“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.”

— Jane Hamilton, author of The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World

“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, hardheaded, unexpected people who look out of this stories like brightly lit signposts on a dark highway. ‘Look here,’ they say. ‘Right here.’”

— Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

“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.”

— John Burnham Schwartz, author of Claire Marvel

“Bret Johnston writes with searing honesty and a deep compassion about the people in his native Texas. This astonishing book will break your heart, make you nod in comprehension, laugh out loud, and ultimately force you to see your own life in a fresh way. The prose is wonderfully precise and the observations are dead-on. Corpus Christi is a brilliant debut by a young writer who has clearly put literature at the center of his life.”

— Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight