Chris Tarry has crafted a wonderful collection of stories in How to Carry Bigfoot Home. With direct and approachable language, Tarry covers experimental writing, flash fiction, fantasy, and coming-of-age in a collection that is contemplative and warm; each of his stories is laced with humor and heart.
In the opening story, “Here Be Dragons,” an out-of-work dragon slayer faces the boredom and responsibility of everyday life. In “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep” a down-and-out deckhand tries to turn his life around by taking a job on a ship that is searching for a sea monster. Tarry writes: “Sunday mornings come down hard on Sammy. The Employment Insurance money never makes it to Sunday. Especially with Saturday night parked neatly in the way.” Not all of Tarry’s stories have fantastic creatures or take place in faraway lands, but they all examine dissatisfaction. In “Here Be Dragons” the narrator grapples with his role as a stay-at-home dad; in “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep” the protagonist has no relationship with his daughter. Both have avoided their responsibilities, neither one entirely satisfied with where they were, nor where they are going.
In one of Tarry’s more traditional pieces—by which I mean it doesn’t contain a sea monster or fairytale creature—“For The Likes of John Muir,” Richard contemplates his new bride Vanessa and how lucky he is to have evolved past a lonely and tired adolescence. When he is forced into work the day after his wedding, Vanessa and a few other wedding attendees head off on a day-long hike. “For The Likes of John Muir” isn’t about dissatisfaction in the same way as the aforementioned stories, but it is about a sadness that clings to the notion of “happiness;” the idea that a happy life may not be entirely pure, and thus isn’t wholly satisfying. “For The Likes of John Muir” was one of my favorite pieces in the collection for the way Tarry balances humor with darkness. Much of his writing is poignant and speaks to a truth that is often very sad. On the sentence level, though, it’s just so damn funny.
Take for example “Dairy Barn Angel,” a piece about a charismatic man who works at a local ice cream shop and is idolized by the numerous women who are his girlfriends and the young men who want to be him: “Everyone was so into Angel. He drove this car with purple undercarriage lights and fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror.” When Angel goes missing the protagonist, Robbie, develops a relationship with one of Angel’s girls. Robbie isn’t particularly cool or suave, and lives with his aging grandfather. However, Angel’s ex stays close to him, begging the question regarding her motives. In both “Dairy Barn Angel” and “For The Likes of John Muir” the main characters are a little immature and underdeveloped emotionally, unaware of how the world really sees them. It’s sad to read about an awareness that is never actualized, especially when there is so much sympathy surrounding the characters. Even in the collection’s title story “How to Carry Bigfoot Home,” the main character (a Bigfoot who teaches creative writing) can’t come to terms with his fall from glory. He is the butt of everyone’s jokes.
Tarry’s work is lighthearted, examining serious issues in imaginative prose that is fun to read. His flash fiction and experimental pieces are creative and enjoyable, though at times he makes risky choices for the sake of being weird. He is clearly a talented and thoughtful writer, and is at his best when he tackles life’s questions and coming-of-age moments in a wheelhouse of fantastic characters and settings. When his stories are given the opportunity to really expand, they are everything you want a story to be: fun, sad, original, and inspired. I am sure we will see great things from this writer—I look forward to reading all of it.
Reviewed Kim Winternheimer