Book Review: How To Carry Bigfoot Home
by Chris Tarry
Red Hen Press, 2015
Reading the thirteen stories in Chris Tarry’s meticulously absurd debut collection, you may start envisioning one of those evolution posters, featuring the progression of simians that culminates in humanity. Most of Tarry’s stories focus on men, boys, or a Sasquatch as they attempt to become better versions of themselves. There’s the alcoholic Sammy, in “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep,” who hopes to start fresh by hunting sea monsters. There’s the adult brothers in “Paint Your Children Red,” who’ve spent their lives stomping on their mother’s invincible last nerve. My favorite is the eighteen-year-old Roberto, from “Dairy Barn Angel,” who courageously takes on the baggage of being super-cool.
But that poster lies—evolution isn’t linear. Whatever beast can thrive during a prevailing set of circumstances is the winner. In How to Carry Bigfoot Home, the complexities of family life churn out some ugly, frail, and beautiful men; Tarry likewise lines his characters up not to show progression, but to reveal paths not taken. In the wonderful “Here Be Dragons,” the narrator is a medieval stay-at-home dad who used to run a dragon-slaying scam with his friend Géorg. The basics went like so:
When starting in on a new village we made sure a few local livestock went missing, but they had to vanish without a trace, like they’d been plucked clean from the pasture. Géorg invented this cart-and-catapult combination for launching the animals we killed into the forest without leaving so much as a wheel track. The thing was a work of art. We’d roll in at night and by the time the sun came up the whole village would be in a frenzy… Géorg even fashioned dragon claws from blocks of wood, strapped them to my feet, and had me walk miles in the mud to simulate the animal’s propensity for stalking.
The scam couldn’t run forever, though, and once Géorg takes off, the narrator becomes the “Duke of Daddyville,” who learns to care for three kids while his wife does rich people’s laundry. Here, Géorg is the drunken sumbitch foil, helping create heroes in a world without actual monsters. But in “Nennorluck Goes Down Deep,” protagonist Sammy lives in a flophouse with other wasted souls, and ends up the hero himself, battling a genuine tentacled horror. This is a fruitful conservation of story potential on Tarry’s part—placing his characters on adjacent twigs of the narrative bush.
Some truly gonzo missing-link pieces lurk in this collection, as well. “The Instructions” is one of them, and is written as a series of 31 steps from the instruction manual of the Renegade R-6 9000X, which is a…um, well—a machine that might appeal to a poor schmoe trapped in a decaying marriage. Among the steps are manically-scribbled diagrams, one of which shows you how to console the neighbor’s wife after accidentally electrocuting her husband during the Renegade’s set-up. Her name, by the way, is Meredith. Step 22 says: “Inform Meredith that you have stopped taking your medication and that these instructions in your head have never made more sense than they do at this very moment.”
Another story that delights in wearing a furry pink tux to the prom is “City Hall Pair-Bonding Study,” which reports the details of a marriage in bureaucratic jargon: “Confirmed acquisition of one or more of the following items: (1) Grandchildren. (2) Gray hair. (3) Comfy chair. (4) Cancer.”
Tarry’s best tales, however, are the most bleakly resonant, capturing boyhood and youth in all of their endless summer conceits—even when the protagonist is the terminally ill ten-year-old in “Monsters.” He’s a “Millionaire Monster Expert” who explains how Lenny, the one creature he’s converted to loyal friend, will be managing his business empire of books, bobble-heads, and more once he’s gone. Meanwhile, the flat-out impeccable “Dairy Barn Angel” bottles that brief, rarefied high that comes from placing your hands on the prize you didn’t dare admit to reaching for. When we meet Angel, he’s the dope-as-shit ice cream shack worker who creates his own flavors, has a gorgeous girlfriend named Francine, and comes and goes in his tricked-out car as he pleases. A few pages later, his best friend Roberto is marrying Francine, honorably managing the paternal drama that Angel has abandoned.
Not all of Tarry’s stories are about men. But many authors run with what they know, right? This seems exceptionally true in the collection’s title piece, which starts with, “Bigfoot walks in to teach my first-year Creative Writing class…” That Tarry could have known a teacher who smelled awful, had terrible taste in fiction, and needed a shoulder to cry on in bars, is painfully believable. This teacher might have been posted to a college under special circumstances—like being a missing link, or perhaps the Lock Ness Monster—which would make for a pitiable acquaintanceship. Then, if that teacher’s ultimate dignity hinged on a colleague’s dismal speech…
Well, never mind where Tarry conjured these creations from. Manhood, boyhood and beyond are dirty, joyous places. When you’ve survived to write about them, embellishing with color, wit, and monster guts, that winner’s bell rings for you all day.