November 30: “School Bus” by Peter Grandbois

Hey there, Story366! Today is the last day of November, which means that I’ve now completed 11/12 of the Story366 project. Thinking back to January, I remember posting updates the first few days, the first week, the first month, celebrating little milestones like three straight days of still doing the blog, a week of it, a month, as I’d more or less assumed that I would have gotten tired of it sooner or later, or something would have come up, and I would’ve quit. Really, I was most shocked at the end of the first week because there’s very few things in my life I’ve stuck to for a whole week. By the end of that first month, I’d convinced myself that if I could do a month of daily blog posts, I could do a year. Now here I am, just a month to go, and I’m feeling about the same, that I can do this, that there’s no doubt in my mind that I can do thirty-one more of these entries. Today, that makes sense. On February 1, I have no idea what I was thinking, why I believed in myself. What an idiot!

As a basball fan—hey, is Spring Training starting yet?—I’m big into stats, and while there’s a lot of nice features on WordPress blogs, one is undoubtedly how much you can track your posts and your visitors. At least a dozen times a day, I check to see how many hits each page has gotten, comparing stats as if I’m sabermetrics deity Bill James (except I’m not as good at math as he is). One stat I pay particular attention to is which post, out of the 334 I’ve done so far, has the most visits. For a long time, like for ten months, the “leader” was Adam Johnson, whose story “Nirvana” I reviewed on January 1, was still by far the record post for most visits. Some time early this month (November), however, that lead start to winnow, then slip more quickly, then got disintegrated. The story post that’s surpassed Johnson’s in the last thirty day, the one that’s now leading by a considerable margin? “Secret Identity” by Kelly Link. I wrote my post on “Secret Identity” in January, and after the initial post, what happened to it is what happens to most of the posts: Nobody really visits it except for the occasional one person, 1 tally on the stats chart. Then, in late October, I noticed daily hits on Link’s entry, while in the past few weeks, there’s been multiple daily visits, by unique visitors, often outnumbering any given day’s post. I’m not going to reveal my numbers here, but right now, I don’t see any other post catching the link post at this point on its way to the gold (though, to note, my post on Jill McCorkle’s “Intervention” has since passed the Johnson post as well).

Because I’m curious and not only a stats geek, I can’t help but wonder: Why have so many people—unique people—clicked on the Link link today? Is there some kind of assignment going around on “Secret Identity?” Did someone make that page their home page by accident? Did “Secret Identity” just win some kind of award? Is Kelly Link herself just needing affirmation every few minutes and rereading my overly positive review for a pick-me-up? I don’t know.

In any case, if you like stats and have a favorite story and/or entry that I’ve posted, you now know that you can skew the results, click on that favorite over and over again and see if it wins the non-existent, only-in-my-head trophy. Click away! Here’s a link to the archives, in case you really want to mess with the results.

For today’s post, I read from Peter Grandbois‘ excellent collection of fictions Domestic Disturbances, out from Subito Press. I’ve read some work by Grandbois before, mostly shorts in literary journals, and have always been a fan. Domestic Disturbances is a thin collection and is made up of one long story, today’s focus, “School Bus,” coming in at thirty-five pages, and then a series of short-shorts, under the subheading “Disturbances,” that are all between one and three pages long. I have no problem writing about a short for this project—back in April, I did an entire week of posts on shorts, after all—and I really like all of the “Disturbances,” which I ate up until they were gone. But I really love “School Bus,” that comparative bohemoth of a story, so that’s where we’re headed now.

“School Bus” is about a school bus, a bus that has a very distinct and authoritative driver to go alone with an array of colorful characters that come in the form of kids on their way to school. Nothing tricky there except for, well, everything. The story is cut up on to page-long-or-so vignettes, for one, all of which have headings. The first vignette is “Before the School Bus” and is more or less about the origin of time—at least for this story—as it takes an almost Genesislike (as in the Bible book, not the band) tone. Before the school bus, there was nothing, and the biblical comparisons continue as the bus, bus stop, and even the road are created in the same way God built the oceans and the mountains. Then we have “The Second Age,” which explores the origins of the people and the bussing system. The bus driver emerges at this point, constructed sort of how Eve is constructed, out of sticks and mud. Next we are introduced to a character called “the spiky-haired boy,” who plays a larger role in the story,  who enters the bus (in a flourish).

From there, Grandbois basically starts describing all the bus riders. The biblical tone eases off almost entirely (except for when the bus driver is a character, as she still talks fire and brimstone and is referred to with a capital H-type “he”). Almost every vignette after that is titled after the kid’s place on the bus, e.g., “Window #1,” “Window #2,” etcetera, denoting where the particular kid sits. Under “Window #1,” we meet the red-haired girl. Under “Window #2,” we meet the weird kid, a class clown who will do anything for a giggle, including smashing a PB&J across his face and pretending he’s a zombie. There’s a girl who’s tall. There’s kid who’s blue. There’s a kid that no one is sure is real because he’s never in focus. Each kid gets his own little story, sometimes about something completely foreign to the bus ride, sometimes concerning things happening on the bus right there and then. Grandbois, who writes a lot of shorts, certainly finds a way to get the form into a longer story, this stacking of little interrelated thumbnail sketches. I liked meeting all the kids as they all seem interesting and unique and well described. The kids get weirder and more interesting as Grandbois goes on, and the sections get longer, too, as the story progresses. All in all, Grandbois captures this ride to school, from beginning to end, but it’s a surreal, imaginative trip, each window shining light down on a pretty impressive creation. My clear favorite is the girl who has a big tree growing out of the top of her spine—I told you they got weirder as we went along—watching as the other kids on the bus (who have been profiled already) tease her then try to help her when she loses all of her leaves; she’s an autumn tree, by the way.

What does this all add up to by the end of “School Bus?” I’m pretty sure I care way more about the journey here than the destination, as once the kids reach the place they’re headed, the story has to end. The bus driver—who is clearly a stand-in for God, or at least god—is there at the end, this group’s mission in correspondence with his desires, his existence. I’m not sure if this a metaphor or allegory for something other than that, but it’s all done masterfully, a story truly unlike any I’ve ever read.

I’m so glad I read Peter Grandbois’ Domestic Disturbances today, one of the only books I’ve read all the way through for this project in a given day (it helps it’s only this one long story and a bunch of awesome shorts). When I woke up this morning, I didn’t think I’d read an entire book, but here we are. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.