Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Review of "That Bus Is Another World"

On the agenda today: a super-duper brief look at "That Bus Is Nother World," a brand-new King short story that was published in the August issue of Esquire.  Yes, I know; it's still July.  It's one of those weird things where the cover date and the on-sale date seemingly have about a month's difference.  I don't get that, but whatever.
Regardless of such obfuscation, my local Publix was more than happy to sell me a copy of this today:

The cashier took one look at this, and said, in a tone that indicated what I assume to be semi-immodest envy (but which might theoretically have actually been sapphic appreciation; even, possibly, both), "Boy, she's got some bod, huh?"
Know ye that I am a man.  Yes, it is true.  I like a good-lookin' woman.  Know ye also that while it might be a reasonable assumption for a Publix cashier to make to assume that Cameron Diaz's luscious physique was the reason for my purchase, this was not actually the case.  I really WAS buying it for the articles.  Or, at least, for the short story.
My reply to the cashier was, "She sure does.  I'm the weirdo who's buying this for the Stephen King story, though."  Followed by what hoped to be a winning smile, but probably wasn't.  This was greeted with skepticism, or pity, or (again) maybe a bit of both.
So be it.  She wasn't the first cashier to give me such a look, and she won't be the last.
The story, then.  How is it?
Know ye (he said again, not sure where such weirdly formal language was coming from) that I will divulge no spoilers.  As such, I'd like to tell you as little about the story as possible.  That isn't unusual in my reviews of new King stories, because I assume most King fans will not read it until it is collected.  And also because, due to the way many short stories function work, the less the reader knows the better.

Such is the case here.  I don't particularly think that having preconceptions of any kind do the reader any good with "That Bus Is Another World."  So, you won't have any preconceptions from me, or at least, you won't have many.  So, what is the story about?  It's about three pages long.  Who is the main character?  A guy.  Where is this guy?  He's in a place you've heard of.  What is he doing there?  He's working.  Sort of.  What happens to him during the course of those three pages?  Well, depending on how you look at it, something.  Is it a horror story?  You tell me.
My point is, these are things you should discover for yourself.  "That Bus Is Another World" is not atypical among recent King stories in that regard; I'd say much the same about excellent recent tales like "The Dune," "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," "Batman and Robin Have an Altercation," and "Summer Thunder."  Is this one as good as those?  You tell me.  (But I think the answer is mostly a "yes.")
Two parting points, one specifically vague and the other vaguely specific:
  • The story features a main character from Birmingham, Alabama, which may make "That Bus Is Another World" the first King story to prominently feature a character from my home state.  Cool!
  • The story shares with the recent novel Mr. Mercedes a bleak political/cultural view.  You can practically feel King saying "What the fuck is going on here?!?"  It feels almost as if he is tuning up for some sort of grandly politically-relevant work.  As in Mr. Mercedes, that content is here both backgrounded and, via the subtext, very much foregrounded.

In short: a very good story from King.  If you're a big fan, go buy a copy of Esquire and support them.  It'll only set you back $5, and your cashier might be bemused by the experience.

Everyone else, it just means you've got another winner for the next collection.


  1. I can relate to these awkward moments at the cash register that you describe. No one ever believes you're buying it for the article or story. Like you say, neither the first nor the last.

    A friend generously scanned in the story and sent it my way, though I may end up buying the magazine just the same. I enjoyed it. A nice short one - part of me wanted it to continue a bit more, but its concerns came through loud and clear by ending where it did. (Particularly when considered via the lens of the title.) Good stuff.

    1. I'm a big fan of awkward-cash-register moments. I sometimes think it would be fun to go to the store and buy absolutely THE skeeviest combination of items, just to try and get a reaction. So, like, olive oil, strawberries, wart cream, condoms, laxative, and a copy of Guns & Ammo. Plus something else random, like a Bible. Fun because you just know you're giving an entire store's worth of people something to talk about on their break. Ultimately, though, I have an actual need for virtually nothing on that list, so it'd be wasting money; and I'm not into that, my collection of "Children of the Corn" movies notwithstanding.

      As for "That Bus Is Another World," the more I think about it, the more I like it. There's something really strong going on in the subtext of that one. It begins as a sort of you-are-there tale in which the annoyance of trying to get to an appointment on time makes the story the sort of thing most of us can sympathize with.

      But then it takes that turn, and we're left feeling that whereas what Wilson does is the worst possible choice, it's also still a rather understandable and relatable one. The need to be on time is strong, especially when one's reputation and future are at stake. Is it THAT strong? Well...probably not. But maybe. May be.

      What's interesting for me is the way that idea butts up against the stuff about the oil spill. I could write a lengthier essay about that, and I might go ahead and do it and just save it for when the story ends up getting collected.

      In the meantime, though, I am currently fighting my way through a very lengthy post about "Golden Years," and am nowhere near done with it. Grr...! Such time-expenditure for such a mediocre movie...

    2. Best of luck with corralling those Golden Years thoughts together. (And looking forward to reading them.)

      I agree - the mix of elements in "Bus is Another World" is quite strong. It could just as easily have been titled "First World Problems" and the theme would be untouched, but I like the less on-the-nose/ more-poetic/ even-Dark-Towery (though not really) title chosen.

      If I had gobs of disposable income, I'd have quite a trail of chaos and misdirection amongst the cashiers of the land, simply to amuse myself in the fashion you describe. Probably a good thing I don't. I can see myself after a few years, having amassed a collection of worthless shite and just a bunch of personal jokes, and wondering what it was all for. Still! Perhaps the laughs would be worth it.

  2. As far as characters from Alabama, there were two of them prominently featured in the story "Dedication." Coincidentally, both stories find these Alabama characters in New York.

    1. I'd forgotten about "Dedication" -- thanks!

    2. In preparation for The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, I've been re-reading all of the short stories and novellas, trying to do one a day. Up to Nightmares and Dreamscapes and this story at the moment and I remembered you making a comment about a character from Alabama in a new story so I looked it up.

      Not a bad story really. Of the eight I've recently read in Nightmares and Dreamscapes, it's in the top three along with "Dolan's Cadillac" and "The End of the Whole Mess." But if I recall correctly, I really enjoyed "Crouch End," "My Pretty Pony" and "The House on Maple Street" as well. To be honest I haven't read any of the older ("Everything's Eventual" and back) short story collections cover to cover in probably a decade until now. So far, "Different Seasons" is the clear winner, but "Night Shift" is a masterpiece and "Skeleton Crew" was nearly as good minus a bad apple or two. "Four Past Midnight" is probably the weakest so far in my opinion and I think it will continue to hold that distinction. The first two novellas were fantastic, "The Library Policeman" started off great but lost it by the end and I didn't care for "The Sun Dog" minus the Pop Merrill character. So far so good with N&D. I've enjoyed all of it so far, although "Popsy" is the weak link. I think I was more impressed with "Everything's Eventual" in general. I suppose I'll find out if that's still the case soon enough.

    3. That is a worthy endeavor you are undertaking. At one point, I was working on reading all the short stories in chronological order and writing relatively detailed reviews of them. It stalled out only because the blog as a whole has stalled out (and that only due to a severe lack of time and -- more correctly -- energy). I'll get back to it one of these days.

      My favorite collection is "Different Seasons," but they are all solid. "Four Past Midnight" is probably least favorite for me, too, and I totally agree with you about "The Library Policeman.