about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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Edge of the Known Bus Line
A Review of Edge of the Known Bus Line
by James R. Gapinski

Spencer Dew

A woman boards a bus the marquee of which reads Out of Service. She assumed—as so many urban commuters so often do—that the label is simply incorrect. The bus stops at her stop, after all, and takes on passengers. It is full, in fact, of riders.

But Out of Service proves, in this short book, to be the name of the end of that particular line, a dystopia of cannibals living in squalor, a society divided by religious factions, each promising a prophetic narrative of escape.

Members of the Chicago Faction, for instance, “pray daily at the Cubs Shrine . . . an oversized foam finger from a Chicago Cubs game that’s been skewered on a stick” as they devoutly hope for “a miracle bus with Chicago/O’Hare on the marquee [that] will arrive any day now. The foretold bus will whisk them away to a promised land flowing with milk and honey and barbeque ribs.” There is another faction focused on Cleveland, and our protagonist—resourceful and as tough as the racoon cartilage she chews on at points in the story—eats a spider at their behest, the idea being that the spider will grant a vision of Cleveland which will help reorient this ragtag group’s understanding of the future.

Out of Service is a locale reminiscent of Mad Max, Lord of the Flies, and late capitalism.

Material things matter intensely there, from a container of Purell hand sanitizer to fresh Kotex to a claw hammer or a box cutter or anything that can be used as an accelerant.

But tribalism, the insistent divisions of people according to fantasies and obsessions, matters even more.

People live in garbage shanties, on the edge of starvation, eating rats and each other, enduring extra humiliations as means of survival—the man who fashioned a condom wrapper into an eye patch; our hero, who affixes her well-worn panties as a bandana to keep the dust out of her nose and mouth. The world as these people experience it bubbles with sludge, severed body parts, and spiders that come in a “range between ping pong ball sized to gigantic baseball sized things.” But for all the filth and horror, violence and scatology, this is a story of hope and survival set in a place, Out of Service, that is itself primarily a place of hope and survival, even if by devious means.

Outlining her best plan to dominate this allegory of our own world, our hero collects “spiders and take them back to my shanty. I peel apart the arachnids while they squirm between my fingers. I squeeze the back parts and harvest individual drops of venom, deposited into an empty can of Bush’s Baked Beans. Drop by drop, I begin filling my stash of venom. Soon I will have enough to taint the meat supply.”

The question raised by this text, however, is whether hope and survival are such good things, not only because they can be approached with such ruthless, inhumane selfishness, but also because they can be not only bolstered by but synonymous with the crappiest of dump-plucked commodities. A moldy old cardboard cook-at-home pizza box and a tube of red lipstick, like the foam fan finger or the glinting foil of the condom wrapper, these things serve as the polestars by which characters here navigate their desperation.

The implication is that we, similarly, placate ourselves and manage to cope with lives that are essentially cannibalistic because of the outlandish stories of identity and history we insist upon and the objects—the pieces of trash—we covet and use as props in our brutish politics.

Official James R. Gapinski Web Site
Official Etchings Press Web Site

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